The Lamb, the Throne, and the Desert: Introduction

  His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.

 Micah 5.2

  

* * *

…and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made…                                                                                 John 1.1-3 

* * *

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.                                            John 5.46  

* * *

 …before Abraham was born, I am!”                                                                                                              John 8.58 

* * *

                                                                         i

The way of the disciple

The imperative is not that we achieve great visions of knowledge.  It is that we know and be known by the One who opens to us the grave beauty of his person.  It is admissible to come to the study of Scripture with hope and fear: inscribed on its pages lie the profiles of the One whom we seek.

Abraham walked with Isaac to Mount Moriah in the grim prospect of sacrificing that son.  Abraham entertained an association of fear and confidence which we need to be our own.  On the one hand, he knew that he did not know in all the world what might transpire to save his son.  On the other hand, he had total confidence in the goodness of his God, confidence that the provision of the lamb, by whose blood every son might be saved, is written in the foundation of the world.

We go to the word of God, fearing for the limitations of our own intelligence and our own study, but confident in the ultimate truth and consistency of the narrative, confident in the purpose of our God to instruct us and draw us closer to his person.

There is a difference between the way of the disciple and the way of the theologian.  The work of the disciple succeeds in passionate devotion to the mastery of the teacher.  The work of the theologian proceeds in dispassionate objectivity.

The study of theology sets out to have knowledge of God through thinking and the critical study of Scripture.  Theology is a study which can be pursued equally by those who have faith and by those who do not.  The study of theology does not presuppose that, in order to arrive at knowledge, the participant must be engaged directly and personally in a relationship with the person of God.

By contrast, the authors of the books of the Bible do generally assume the imperative that the reader, like each individual portrayed in the biblical narrative, has need of radical engagement in a direct relationship with the person of God.

Anyone who reaches for God through the Scriptures is informed anecdotally and explicitly that in some way his consciousness and will must intersect with the consciousness and will of God, leading to the Spiritual birth which makes possible a life in the presence of God.

The Bible engages in theology only peripherally.  The authors of the Scriptural writings place little value on theoretical knowledge of God that is not rooted in intimate knowledge of God.  As James said,

“You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”[1]…”  

The authors of Scripture believe that to understand God, his will, and his kingdom one must respond radically to his claim to lordship over the individual.

“Behold I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me.”[2]

In response to our opening the door, Christ enters the heart in love and healing and instruction.  He educates us to a life which despairs of self-sufficiency and finds its resources in him.

As Jesus enters he speaks a command:  that we are to love him with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.

The fruitful response to this “command” is a strange mix of east and west: on the one hand infatuation and romance, on the other hand an assignment of union which begins in mere respect, but over time learns from him the content of love.

To discover that there is a divine person at the heart of the universe who knows me and has the most profound interest in my welfare leads to a falling in love which requires no command.  At the same time there is need of a command to focus my attention, given that, in spite of being created in the image of the object of my love, I am the child of a tragically rebellious culture:  I must swear fealty to my lord; I must by my will oblige myself to yield in all my passion to his restorative hand.  I must be taught to love.

Christ expands the command to love God and our brother.  He says that if we love him we must exhibit it by loving him in the discipline of obedience to his commandments.  We are to be known as his disciples through our love of others and of him.  In the life of rebellion we worked always to preserve our liberty.  We lived under the law of the world, Ut fiat Libertas, do as thou wilt.  Now in love for him our hearts are consumed by the desire to know and do his will, Fiat voluntas tua, thy will be done.  Our hearts labor to know his highest desire for us, to know his law within our hearts.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  The love of his will is the presence of his law within the heart.  The love of his will originates in the presence of his substantial being, his Spirit, within the heart.

Now we find ourselves bound to his law, his commands, the heart of the ancient covenant.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”[3] 

[This is the covenant which he has sworn he will never abandon.  For its sake he brought us into the new covenant, making it possible for his law to be within our hearts.  The words of the ancient covenant, enshrined within the ark of the covenant, will receive ultimate honor in heaven at the final trumpet at the climax of the age[4]].

Now we clearly begin to be unlike the rest of the world:

“…strangers in the world…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.”[5] 

We are bound by the blood of his sacrifice on the cross, the blood of the new covenant.  We are also bound to him by our desire to know his will, his command of love, and the commands of the ancient covenant.

Inside the ancient covenant we learn that at the height of all that we worship and esteem in this world lies the God of Israel who brought our forefathers out ofEgypt.  He, the in-historical God, is the focus of our attention, our honor, and our love.  We are to give no created thing nor any image of things created or imagined a position of honor such that it can not yield immediately to the expectations of our God.  We are to reserve all our sentiments of worship for the God of Israel alone.

Inside the covenant we learn that the six days of creation were complete, and the world, as it has been made, is complete, even in our rebellion and our personal losses.

“The highest heavens belong to God, but the earth he has given to man.”[6] 

In the midst of the heavens this is the planet where men choose God in freedom.  This is the very world which satisfies the creative intentions of the lord of all worlds.  This is the world which our God, in love, was willing to redeem by going to the cross.

Inside the ancient covenant we learn the complete sufficiency of the daily and ongoing care of our God.  In obeying the command to honor the Sabbath we learn that the creation of God is complete, and that there remains God’s excess of riches, his sacred time in which to reveal to us his endless being.

Inside the ancient covenant we learn that we are a sacred people, set apart for him.

“If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[7] 

Our messiah has secured our place within this holy nation:

“…He [Jesus] has made us a realm of priests for his God and Father,..”[8]

There is a great boundary separating the city of God and the city of the world, even though we are to live in the world and stand firm in our faith.  Jesus says to his disciples,

“You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world,”[9]

and he also says to his Father,

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world…As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world….May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”[10]

The distinction between the city of God and the city of the world is founded upon the presence of the Spirit of God in our hearts and lives.  As Moses said to God,

“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”[11] 

With his presence within us we are subjects of his kingdom and we are sent out as aliens into the world.

Jesus states that the highest commandment is to love God with all your heart, and right next to it he places the command to love our brother as our own selves.  Jesus also says that the love of our brother, of the weak, of the needy – regardless of the context — is the love of him.  He compels us to know and love our brother.  Our love of God and our brother takes on reality on the day in which we open the door to the heart and he enters to share our deepest secrets, to love and rule the house of the heart.

Jesus teaches us that the forgiveness of our sins against God is conditioned upon our forgiveness of every sin of our brother, and of our enemy, against us.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Later he explicitly admonishes us to love our enemies and forgive those who mistreat us.  We are “the servant who has been forgiven much,” and we can not honorably accept release from that debt while bludgeoning the neighbor for the pittance that he owes us.

Out of the compulsion to love our enemies grows the obligation of the servant of Jesus to non-violence.  “Not by might but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”  We are never to raise a sword in violence to defend our kingdom, the city ofGod.  Our witness to the sufficiency of God is that we are not compelled to serve our will or the will of God by any act of violence against our brother.  Our lord’s expectation from us is a life radically different from the life of the world of rebellion.  Our final allegiance in all things is to him and the glory of his kingdom.

He asks us to look closely at his coming into the world, into Israel, entering into history after centuries of anticipation of the one who would redeem the holy people.  He came to fulfill the prophetic expectation.  He also came to re-engineer the kingdom, because, as long expected, his kingdom explicitly contains within it the hope of salvation for all peoples.

Through his provision of the Spirit of God to the human heart it became possible for the kingdom to spread beyond the national boundaries.  Now Jesus himself is the cornerstone of the new covenant kingdom:

“See I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame….The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”[12]

Jesus came in triumphal procession into Jerusalem, hailed as messiah and king.  Children and disciples called out, “Hail to the heir to the throne of David.”[13]  The priests asked Jesus to quiet them. Jesus replied that if he should quiet them then the very stones of earth would take up the cry:[14]  the whole earth groans for his appearance.

He did not come as a mere candidate for kingship.  Nor did he need our acceptance to establish his royal authority.  His triumphal procession was no cynical dress rehearsal for some future event.  He went as king and champion to the cross, where he victoriously rescued mankind, his creation, from the curse of death, winning for his people the eternal life for which they were born.  He ascended to the eternal throne of God, the very eternal seat of power to which Israel has always sworn fealty.  From this throne he, in mystical union, rules us in this time.

We, as participants and communicants in the mystery and power of the messiah, are privileged to own a view of God far more profound than that of the mere theologian.  As we are also students of the roots of our messiah in history, we are able to see beyond the many compromises and distortions bound into the traditions of faith.  We are afforded a vision of our true roots in the historic holy people of God.

The continuity of the Israel of God lies in Jesus alone, as the domain of the Israelof  God lies in us who belong to Jesus our king.   Israel was created by God to be separate from the nations.[15]  It was formed in the Sinai by covenant with God and it has no existence apart from covenant relationship with God.  In the present time God’s covenant with his people is, as promised in Ezekiel[16] and Jeremiah[17], a new covenant, written in the blood of our king upon the cross.

The modern state of “Israel” is suffering from severe amnesia, deceiving the world as to its right to claim the aegis of God’s blessing while renouncing covenant and messiah and assuming a place among the nations of the world.  This modern state of Israel is of course encouraged by the amnesia of the “Christian” West which naively believes that anything calling itself Israel and made up of genetic descendants of Abraham must be Israel.  The church has forgotten the words of John the Baptist, who went out into Israel ahead of the messiah announcing that the kingdom of the messiah of Israel will be founded on baptism [Israel’s ancient rite for binding the alien into the nation] into the true Israel of God, a baptism beginning with repentance [turning away] from sin [even for those already genetically connected to Abraham] and culminating in the baptism of the Spirit at the hand of the messiah himself.  John said:

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  …I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”[18]

John the Baptist was clearly anticipating the messiah who liberates mankind from sin and death, not a mere national leader who overthrows Roman rule.  Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of Man, has revealed himself to be that messiah.

An understanding of ourselves as the Israel of God is our obligation in a time when the genetic descendants of Abraham are being led by a deceptive and cynical reach for national power, without respect for Torah, commandments, or messiah, and in a time when those who give lip service to the messiah as savior, the hierarchical church, have lost all vision of the kingship of their savior.

We who belong to the messiah of Israel are true children of Israel.  It is imperative that we do not abandon our allegiance to our king and his kingdom.  In the present condition of ignorance, the aura of divine sanction is bestowed upon some of the most dangerous powers on the planet.  They drag the name of our God in the dust and those who love the God of Israel say nothing.  In the name of the God of Israel immeasurable violence is being perpetrated against the Arab world.

In covenant relationship with the messiah of Israel, nothing separates us from the historic people of God.  We are the Israel of God; we are the heirs to the promise of Israel.  As Paul wrote:

“If you belong to the anointed king [“Christ,”] then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”[19] 

We are compelled to own the banner of our historic people, without regard for the tendency of genetic descendants of Abraham to reserve the promise for themselves, and equally without regard for the tendency of the hierarchical church to give away all title to the promise.

God’s plan of redemption is not merely to collect an assortment of guilt – free individuals and assign them to an eternity of painless existence.  Built upon the patriarchy of Abraham and his descendants, built upon a stubborn remnant which has stood bravely in its faith, and above all built upon the love and sacrifice of our king, God is securing to himself a holy people, a holy kingdom able to stand true in the battle of the ages.

We must stand on the line of battle in this present time.  The battle is well underway.  The successes of the enemies of God are so widespread that cult figureheads of the enemy openly claim success in their ownership of this world in this century.  The church and synagogue are unaware, but the enemies of God are fully aware that the modern adherents of the God of Israel have stroked themselves into a slumber which has all the appearance of death.  Similarly the armies of the Christian and Zionist nations are engaged in violent aggression across the globe, dragging the name of the God of Israel in the dust.  It has never been more important that true children of the God of Israel stand up for the true nature of our king and his kingdom, denying the easy usurpation of its glory by pretenders.

Jesus asked the sobering question:

“When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?”[20]


[1] James 2.19

[2] Revelation 3.20

[3] Matthew 5.17

[4] Revelation 11.15-19

[5] I Peter 1.1; 2.9,10,11

[6] Psalm 115.16

[7] Exodus 19.5,6

[8] Revelation 1.6

[9] John 15.19

[10] John 17.14,18,21

[11] Exodus 33.15,16

[12] I Peter 2.6,7

[13] Mark 11.9,10; Matthew 21.9,14

[14] Luke 19.40

[15] Numbers 22.9

[16] Ezekiel 11.13-21; Ezekiel 36.22-28; Ezekiel 37.15-28; Ezekiel 39.23-29

[17] Jeremiah 31.29-40; Jeremiah 32.36-42

[18] Matthew 3.8,9,11

[19] Galatians 3.29  see also Ephesians 2.11-22

[20] Luke 18.8

 

ii

 The Bond of the Disciple

On a certain day a man awakes and finds himself convinced that God is not just an eternal hum, but has in fact the form of “Person” and all that that entails: consciousness, definition, independence, mutability.  He allows himself to believe that he and God share this fundamental form, this elemental unit in the world of conscious spirit: the being and form of “Person.”  It soon follows that this man sees his own self as present within the consciousness of God, and he is able to say to himself:  I am known to Him.

His awareness of the consciousness of God presses upon him.  He feels hunger.  Apart from anything that he has sought or prepared for, he is overcome by an urge to acknowledge the presence of God: His being, His consciousness, His consciousness of this man’s own self.  The man also is deathly afraid that the survival of his own sinful self within the consciousness of a holy God is not possible.

He gets dressed and goes out the door.  He walks to a nearby house of prayer.  He enters and he kneels.  He seeks God, placing his own consciousness open to the presence and consciousness of God.  He allows that God is merciful, that for this moment God accepts him into His presence in spite of the vast difference of scale and virtue.  The conversation begins.

In the coming days, he meets others who frequent this place and he begins to participate in a community of worship.  Over time, however, he finds himself alienated by the torpor of the community of worship in light of the urgency inherent in his God’s drawing him to Himself.  He suffers under a compulsion which leaves him no ease.  He finds himself compelled to discover his true community transcending the immediate collection of individuals.  He imagines his true community as those people who find their God to be their great treasure, wherever they are, these “people of God,” even though he may not know how to establish meaningful contact with even one of them apart from his own participation in the worship of God.

As he goes on in an often solitary bond to the person of God, he finds himself searching to understand what it is that binds his person to the Person of God.  As he looks more deeply into the ties between himself and his God, he asks, Where is that profound moment or event which binds us together ….or are we merely flirting with each other?

He looks past his devotion, past his prayer, past his belonging to a people of God, toward a faith which God promises to honor, toward love and obedience which God expects of him, to the commands and laws of God which He has issued as formative and normative for his people.  He sees the bonds of covenant made between God and his people: their relationship seems founded on deliberation and purpose and promise.  But he finds himself still looking for something fundamental in the architecture of the world that binds the gulf between God and himself.

He looks to Abraham, to Moses, to Jacob. What did they see?  What did Job see?  What did the prophets see?

He reaches for God more passionately.   And yet it is God who reaches out for the man.  He amplifies the man’s consciousness of his own sinfulness.  He sends him to his brother to love him.  God sends him to discover and know His own grieving for the rebellion of the world.  Every time the man tries to hold to God in the cloister, He sends the man out to discover Him in the street.

He leads the man to his enemy and demands that he love him.  The man despairs of strength and God sends him to Himself, to His Spirit, to His endurance and to His love, the only love which is able to accept the insults of the enemy and able to turn to the enemy… with honor for the magnificence of expectation which belongs to his neighbor and his enemy….

But how is it that his neighbor or his enemy owns magnificence and expectation in this world?

His God sends him to the house of his enemy and he is forced to see that his enemy and he are one…that neither of them owns any expectation in this world apart from the crushing and reverberating groan of God upon the cross…. by which cross we, the children of rebellion, are bought back from death and given the right to be children of God.

This ponderous act of love upon the cross is the profound fact which anchors us to God.  It is there apart from our volition.  It is thrust upon us like a condemnation.  It is our burden to see it, to take it up, to embrace it, to know it as our own, to embrace our enemy, to go to Jesus our Lord: to answer the call of our king that we know his love and be his disciples.  His act of atonement is the fact in the architecture of the world which can not be escaped.  He has purchased us with his blood and we are his possession.

We are compelled to see what Job sees:

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.     And after my skin has been destroyed, Yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!” [1]            

 

iii

The ring of truth, the person of the master, and his word

 Jesus said,

“Where I am, there will my servant be also.” [2]

He also said,

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  …Now remain in my love.”[3]

Jesus is the source and central fact of creation.  For us, to know the meaning and truth of being human, we must find our way to him.  The clumsy effort of these pages is to go to Scripture and to attempt to clear the weeds away from markers along the road, in pursuit of the person of Jesus.  Some little weeds are complacencies of translation, but the big weeds are dogmas of church and science and popular culture which build soft moss around the more uncomfortable truths of the Bible, in order to serve their self interest.

Coming before God heals my soul…and maintains my discomfort.  It is perhaps the case that in this world a healthy soul must not accept the luxury of being at ease.  The church and the synagogue are asleep, and few are offended.  I hope that I can present a narrative of the life of Jesus which will leave us uncomfortable  – with the burden of our existence placed surely in his hands, and our hearts grieving for the losses of our brothers.

The pursuit of Jesus is the only true road of enchantment in this world.  The journey goes forward deep in the heart, in silence, in listening, in tears, in prayer, in worship, in doubt, in faith, in weakness, in healing, in song, in fear, in serving.  And in all things we refine our understanding of our journey and of our master in the study of his word.  His word is absolutely holy.  It is our perfect and objective guide and measure.  The ring of truth in the heart must be held to the light of his word.  For us, the truth of his word must find a place in our hearts, our prayers, our actions, our lives.

He in us, by the presence of his living Spirit, this is our truth.  He, ruling the heart’s house, is our truth.  And he has made us to be brilliant, to be wise, to be educated.  He expects it of us that we devote ourselves to the knowledge of his word, by which we gain intelligence of him, learn to love him more truly, and live and act in confidence.

End of Introduction

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