Sunday, January 29, 2012

It Is All Happening Now

Today's Sabbath observation is of some interesting similarities between the gospel narratives of the Temptation of Jesus, 1 Corinthians 10, and Hebrews 3-4. All refer back to the story of Israel wandering in the wilderness and all are about temptation and time.

First off, all make the point (explicit in the epistles, implicit in the gospels because of the setting in the wilderness) that the story of Israel is repeating itself. What happened to them was for us, Paul writes (1 Cor. 10:6), because their story is our story and their YHWH is our God. Countless sermons have been built on this assertion. But realize what an amazing assertion it is: that this story about the deliverance of a bunch of slaves in the desert over 3000 years ago is still relevant. That's because God is universal and God is the same, and our problem is the same. It's like the past is happening again.

The author of Hebrews makes this explicit in a slightly different way, by emphasizing the entrance to the promised land as the "rest" provided by God. This rest is also the rest that God entered into on the seventh day of creation (4:4) and it's the same rest referred to both by David in Psalm 95 and by Moses when looking toward the promised land. The author's point is that this is ALL the same thing, even though the Scripture references are scattered across thousands of years (and even the writing of that observation is now back two thousand years!). This rest is the salvation offered by Jesus, the gift putting things right, the rightness and peace of "shalom." Temptation attracts us away from this rest. Temptation is anti-peace, anti-wholeness, frenetic and frantic. Sound familiar?

The author of the Hebrews emphasizes that for each of these events -- the 7th day of creation, the words of David, and the wilderness wandering of Israel -- the real choice and real crux of action is Today. Again and again the author repeats the old Psalm, "Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" and "So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest." The author (of Hebrews and of Psalm 95) says that "Today" is today. All these times are happening for you, for your choice and your direction and your repentance. In this sense, it is all happening now. Look at the present tense in 4:1: "A promise being left us of entering into his rest."*

This is personally convicting. When I look at myself, I don't see the rest I want to see. So many "todays" I have not entered in. I haven't been particularly peaceful lately, although with four small children I hope there's a bit more contingency grace for that. That serenity is not a cliche, it's a goal that Christ can bring me into, it's a land waiting to be entered, with patience. And the temptation is there, just as it was for those wandering in the desert, to turn another way, to another source for energy and life, whether by hoarding manna or begging for quail.

Adam and Eve faced that temptation and turned elsewhere, going so far as to hide from their maker (and their maker played along with the charade they set up that they could hide!). Jesus faced the same temptation, three times explicitly, and stronger than they ever did.

This is where a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture becomes crystal clear, because what was the nature/event of the Fall? (David Bazan wrote a whole album about this with Curse Your Branches, though I don't agree with his conclusions!*) Was the moment of the Fall definitely the eating of a fruit, teeth ripping into a sugary something-or-other, was that the primary disobedience? If that's the case, why didn't Jesus go to a garden and refuse to eat the fruit? If the historical details of Genesis are of primary importance, then there's a sense that Jesus never fully reversed the fall.

But what if the Fall was something different, this inevitable, selfish turning away that now must be turned away/repented from? If the Fall was reaching out to eat what you shouldn't, then it was reversed by the refusal to turn stones into bread. If the Fall was displaying an unholy reliance in God to catch you when you were doing something wrong (to stop you from eating the fruit), then it was reversed by refusing to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. And, most generally perhaps, if the Fall was worship of the power of self and bowing down before the wrong thing, a reflection of the self in the skin of the fruit, then it was reversed by refusing to bend a knee on the top of the world before the father of lies. Each of these is greater than refusing to eat a fruit, and yet each of these IS a refusal to eat the fruit. Each of these was reversed and resisted, and each of these is still a temptation, even years after that temple pinnacle itself was razed.

If we believe Jesus actually, truly reversed the Fall with his life, culminating in his resurrected and ascended body, then we have to believe that Easter happened 2000 years ago, not necessarily that a piece of fruit entered one guy's mouth twice that long ago (or more).

It is more important to understand that a historical Jesus fixed the world than that a historical Adam broke it. And it is most important to understand that today, right now, he is here holding out his rest for us to enter. May we actually take him up on it, one of these todays.

* Not sure if this present tense is there in the Greek, but it's there in the King James translation I'm using right now, so "today" that's a present tense verb, which I think is cool!

** Curse Your Branches is a great album for exposing the insufficiency of the Sunday School treatment of the Fall but of course it stops way too soon. The day is yet young ...

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