Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 20

OT: I Kings 22:1-53

Sigh. Another day, another story I don't understand. In today's OT offering, Jehoshophat and Ahab team up for an ill-fated mission against the king of Aram. Let's run through my list of questions, shall we?

1. Why is Jehoshaphat teaming up with such an evil king in the first place?
2. Where is Elijah? Who is this Micaiah fellow?
3. Why does God employ evil spirits? He sent one evil spirit to Saul, and now, according to Micaiah, He has sent a lying spirit to Ahab.
4. Why did He then tell Ahab that He sent a lying spirit to him?
5. After Micaiah's vehement prophecy against it, why did Jehoshophat still agree to go to war?

Okay, now it is time to engage with the text and try to think through all of these questions.

1. Just because you are righteous doesn't mean that you don't sometimes work with unrighteous people. Even Paul told the Christians that they would have to associate with immoral people in the world. The only way to not associate with immoral people, according to Paul, is to leave this world (I Cor. 5:9-10).

2. Who knows where Elijah is? He and Ahab aren't exactly tight. And earlier chapters have made clear that there are many prophets. Apparently, Micaiah is just one of them who is particularly outspoken.

3. One thing Scripture is clear on is that God is able to work all things for the good (Rom. 8:28). It is also clear that God uses negative things, such as suffering, to accomplish His will. Does God like suffering? I don't think that He does. Does He employ it? Yes. Does God like evil? No. Does God employ existing evil (spirits and such) to work for His good? Apparently, yes. After all, God is in control of all things, so that would necessarily include demonic forces. Do I really get all this? No. Does it, however, give me further insight into the ever-fascinating interplay of God's intervention and free will? Yes.

4. I guess by that point, God knew it wouldn't matter. And He was right.

5. No idea.

But hey, at least God used all of these events to fulfill His words about Ahab's death. After my concerns about His follow-through yesterday, it was nice to see some of the pieces come together.

Lastly, I definitely remember more stories about Jehoshophat, but apparently, I Kings is done with him. I think Chronicles has more to say.

NT: Acts 13: 16-41

Woo-hoo! As part of my ongoing interest in the development of the gospel message, I eagerly read Paul's speech, hoping to find a moment where Jesus's death was directly linked to the forgiveness of sins. And I found it! Granted, it was hard to miss b/c it was in bold print, but here it is: "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses" (38-39). Now, granted, these words are just an intermediate step between Peter's version so far, and the fully-articulated idea of atonement through death that we find in the epistles. Peter, after all, has already made clear that when we repent, we are forgiven of our sins. Paul, however, specifically articulates that our forgiveness, our justification, comes through Jesus. That is one step away from the explanation that Jesus' very death was the sacrifice that justified us before God.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that the gospel message changed, necessarily. I'm just saying that so far in Acts, certain central parts of it have not been conveyed by the speeches we have from Peter. And since his sermons were given at very key moments in church history (Pentecost, Cornelius' house), I would have to assume that they are fully representative of how Peter understood the gospel at the time. And I just think that it is curious that none of his speeches mention that Jesus' death was an atoning sacrifice. That makes me think that while the gospel message has always been the same, the early Christians' understanding of it was an evolving phenomenon. Right now, they are still in process of fully understanding the significance of what happened. And from a historical viewpoint, that is fascinating to me.

Psalm 138: 1-8

Another praise psalm. My two favorite verses are 6 and 7a: "Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life." I have always loved the idea that God cares for the lowly and that He is close to the broken-hearted and all that. What I found particularly fascinating about this passage was the idea that he knows the proud from a distance. I think one reason that is true is that pride drives a wedge between us and God. Ultimately, pride is idolatry; it is the worship of one's self. When we are proud, there is simply no room for God in our lives. Thus, He is distant form us. As for the first part of verse 7, I love reminders that God is with us, even the midst of trouble.

Proverbs 17:17-18

Verse 17 is famous, and rightfully so. It says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Beautiful.

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