Month: January 2016

National Pride – Someone always loses

It could be because I’m only “half Australian”* (or for other reasons described below), but I found myself half-heartedly observing our national day yesterday, rather than enthusiastically celebrating. I only took part of the day off and the extent of my observance amounted to listening to a few songs from my “Australia Day” playlist on Spotify and enjoying a late afternoon walk in the bush with my wife.

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It’s not that there’s a lack of things to be thankful for when it comes to being born in this country and enjoying the quality of life that God has graciously granted our society. As Chris Berg pointed out on ABC’s the Drum, Australia has an awful lot going for it. We can at times be a nation of whingers, who find thanksgiving and gratitude difficult – but the reality is we have an abundance of things we ought to be extremely grateful for.

But a national day like 26th January reminds me that when it comes to national pride there are always people who lose out. And contests around issues of national identity must almost necessarily have winners and losers.

While there is much to be celebrated when it comes to the progress this country has made since the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in 1788, there is also much to be mourned when it comes to how much suffering white settlement has caused to Australia’s Indigenous inhabitants. To change the date of Australia Day, as has been proposed and echoed frequently over the years, would infuriate many “Aussie patriots” and risk denying the significance of what could be regarded as the genesis of Australia’s modern history.
Yet to continue celebrating the 26th January the way we currently do will mean an annual rubbing of salt into the wounds of a large portion of the Aboriginal community.
Seems as though someone must lose for others to win.

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This extends to how we construct our national identity more broadly too. While Australia Day offers opportunities to celebrate diversity and welcome new citizens into our society, it also runs the risk of promoting superficial stereotypes of “Aussie culture” that can easily marginalise those who don’t easily fit the ethnic and cultural mold. For some it may be an opportunity to flex the muscles of Anglo-Saxon cultural dominance and dress up a bit of white supremacy in the Australian or Eureka flags.

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On the flipside, to embrace a multi-cultural vision of Australia that celebrates the ancestral cultures of every kind of migrant as special, except for those who have white skin and are of English descent, is just as deficient. As a school student I couldn’t help but feel that my lack of a secret, non-Anglo branch in my ancestry gave me less to celebrate in an environment where great efforts were made to emphasise multicultural beauty. Because of what is, in my opinion, Australia’s cultural immaturity in how it relates to its origins as a British colony, white Australians are taught to think of themselves simply as “Australians.”

But if we emphasise multicultural diversity this potentially creates a mindset where an Italian-Australian or an African-Australian are conceptualised as full participants in all that it means to be Australian, with a rich Italian or African cultural heritage they should be encouraged to celebrate and share with others. That leaves ordinary, boring Anglo-Australians (who I acknowledge were the privileged class for many years, and still are in some cases) with a common national and cultural identity they’re to share with everyone else in the classroom, workplace and community, but with no special cultural heritage they’re encouraged to celebrate and share with others (except maybe with overseas visitors!).

While I recognise that Australians of different ethnic backgrounds will often have negative stories of racism and how they wished it was easier to fit in without being discriminated against, I struggled with the boringness of not having something different to celebrate.

This is probably one reason I lack enthusiasm for Australia Day and Aussie nationalism.
When pressured to choose between intensifying my identification as a “true Australian” and delegitimising the Australianness of others (as I see many in today’s society attempting to do) and embracing the version of multiculturalism that elevates bi-cultural Aussies to a position above the mono-cultural, been-here-too-long-to-still-think-we’re-British types, I’d prefer to steer clear of both and get on with life.

Of course mending the relationship between Indigenous and white Australians is crucial to our future as a nation, yet focusing too much on this particular element may have the side-effect of seeing our society as an ongoing dialogue between black and white citizens – in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and Australians of British heritage are the main stakeholders in our nation. In this scenario, “new Australians” of the post-war era that have little to do with this old rift would be left on the margins of the national discussion.

I seriously doubt we can celebrate Aussie pride and engineer a national identity in a way that makes everyone a winner. This suspicion is further confirmed by the other old battles that some attempted to reignite around the holiday. The tired old push for a republic, which for some time now has been wheezing in its struggle for the oxygen of relevance, has apparently been given a bill of good health. Now it can once again divide the nation between those who are loyal to the Crown (or at least happy with our present constitutional arrangements) and those who want a “mate for head of state” (despite still lacking a concrete model for a republic 17 years after that very weakness robbed them of any chance of winning the 1999 referendum).

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The ABC was also running stories on possible replacements for the Australian flag, which do away with the Union Jack and supposedly provide us with a more mature, distinctive national standard. Again, someone must lose out – whether it’s those who love the current flag and see it as the banner our ANZACs died under, or those who see the present standard as a colonial relic that needs to better reflect our national identity in the 21st century.

I’m thankful to God for His kindness to the people of this land; for the freedom to worship and spread the gospel in relative peace; for sparing us from invasion, civil war, major terror attacks, epidemics and crippling national disasters; and for stable, relatively corruption-free government, under a good constitution and an admirable Queen. But I’ll hold my identity as an Australian lightly and loosely. Partly because I’ve been pushed by my civic education to look elsewhere for something that makes me special (that all important Gen Y quality!) and partly because the gospel of Jesus Christ has given me a richer identity to celebrate.

Today, and all year round I’ll be celebrating my citizenship in heaven, my belonging in the Kingdom of God and my allegiance to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Anyone of any background can opt in and no one need lose out – unless they choose to. We can all glorify God with our cultural diversity, and yet the common identity we have by grace in Christ is the primary thing we celebrate. While the Church, like Australia, may falter in her attempts to bring men, women and children from all nationalities and cultures together into one integrated people – she is destined to succeed where multicultural societies will ultimately fail. I look forward to the day I can rejoice before the throne of God with people from every nation, tribe and tongue – not as a culturally dominant person, nor as a marginalised person – but as an equal, fellow-citizen with an international body of saints in the greatest society there could ever be.

[1] Andrew Muller, “Australia Day, Sandy Point 2007” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Bentley-Smith “200507 Tent Embassy” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[3] Selina “IMG_0175” (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr
[4] Public Stock “Australian Flag” (CC BY 2.0) flickr

*Shhh, my father is a New Zealander! Maybe that’s been my problem all along

Christ’s Resurrection and the Old Testament? (Pt. 3)

After looking at which OT passages the early church cited in relation to the resurrection and exploring how it might more broadly fulfil the Old Testament Scriptures as they point to God’s Messiah, I want to explore with you the very question that led me to want to write this three part series. Are there hints in the Old Testament that the Messiah might rise from the dead, which can be understood as such in light of the historical reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead?

Here I’m not talking about allegory or stretching texts or themes too much to make them speak about something they weren’t intended to. But I do want to explore whether reading the OT through NT eyes allows us to detect some hints or clues that God may have placed in the Hebrew Scriptures for us to find in hindsight and glorify Him for seeing how He fulfils the OT in Christ’s resurrection.

Let me share just a couple of passages I’ve been excited by in thinking about this question. You may not find them as convincing as I do, but they’re certainly worth consideration.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” These are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah: “Thus says the LORD: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace. Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale? Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it. “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. (Jeremiah 30:1-9)

God promises here in the future, when fulfilling part of His promises to His people that they will serve Yahweh their God and David their king. While in this passage the two characters are separate, it is interesting to note that Jesus was Yahweh the God of Israel coming to dwell among His people in human flesh and was also the Davidic King God had promised to set over His people.  But what is really interesting is the idea of “raising up.”

Of course “raising up” should typically be understood in the sense of picking someone from amongst the people and elevating them to a status of leadership over their people. But some in reading this passage have wondered whether the “raising up” of David is suggestive of a resurrected David reigning over God’s people (i.e. God will raise up David specifically to reprise His role as King of Israel to fulfill the covenant promises made to him). I don’t see the need for a literal David in this passage – in fact I think it detracts from what is a clear Messianic prophecy. It is right and proper to call Jesus (as Messiah) “David” in the same sense that Jesus called John the Baptist “Elijah.” John was a new Elijah, Jesus was a new David.

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King David [1]

But I do latch on the idea of “raising up” possibly being about the resurrection. My suspicion is strengthened by the Greek translation of the Old Testament (which was read and cited by the New Testament authors).
The word for “raise up” is ἀναστήσω, the exact word Jesus uses several times in John 6 to describe His raising to life of those who believe in Him and related to the verbs and nouns used for the resurrection in numerous NT passages. So while I don’t think Jeremiah or anyone reading his book prior to the resurrection would have understood this passage as speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection, I think it seems legitimate to see it from a NT perspective as a hint that God intended to raise His Messiah to life to rule over His people.

Another passage is from Deuteronomy 18. Moses says:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen– just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)

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It is clear from the NT that Jesus was the prophet like Moses promised here and that He is the one everyone must listen to in order to obey God’s will and have life. But again, the idea of raising up is presented in this passage and again the verb is ἀναστήσω, used later in the NT to speak of resurrection. And so again I find myself musing about the possibility that the OT speaks of the Messiah, both as Ultimate Prophet and Promised King, being “raised up”, because we were meant to look back and discover more hints that this was part of God’s great plan of redemption all along.

[1] Fab5669 “Statue of King David in Saverne museum, wooden statue of the 18th-century from Niederbronn (Bas-Rhin, France)” CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia commons.

[2] Jaimeluisgg “Moises statue at the entrance of Agricultural Resort Waters of Moses, located in Rio Azul sector, Pantoño rural settlement, Ribero municipality, Sucre state, Venezuela” CC0 wikimedia commons.

Christ’s Resurrection and the Old Testament? (Pt. 2)

Last time we looked at how the early church understood the resurrection of Christ as a fulfillment of particular OT Scriptures, especially David’s “prophecy” in Psalm 16. But one or two references to the something as big as the resurrection of the Messiah might leave us scratching our heads as to why such an event wasn’t predicted to the same degree as other important details about the Christ. This brings us to our second question: “Can the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection “fulfill Scripture” in a broader, big picture kind of way – independent of explicit predictions?”

One of the mistakes many Christians and sceptics alike make when it comes to Jesus’s “fulfillment of prophecy/Scriptures/promises” is to look for the wrong kind of background (eg; “predictions”) and the wrong kind of fulfillment (i.e. literal, undeniable characteristics or deeds that respond precisely to specific predictions). I mentioned in one of my pre-Christmas posts that atheists often get excited by the fact that Matthew says Jesus fulfilled the Scripture “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” Some contend that Matthew and Christians who believe him are moronic, because Mary’s son was named Jesus – a name they likely think has no prophecy in the Old Testament connected with it (something I’d actually contest – but that one’s for another day!). Using this approach, Jesus can only fulfil Scripture if He was literally called Immanuel by His parents, in the synagogue and the marketplace etc; This misses Matthew’s point entirely, which is that Jesus should be considered Immanuel, because He is in fact God dwelling with us.

What has all of that got to do with the resurrection? Well a lot. If we limit ourselves to explicit predictions of the Messiah’s resurrection in the OT, we’ll come up short. God deliberately kept this truth relatively concealed until it happened and only the resurrected Jesus Himself and the Holy Spirit could help the disciples understand its connection to the Scriptures, even after the fact. But the resurrection can be in accordance with the Scriptures if it occurred to fulfill or embody some of the grand themes or passages of the Old Testament.

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King David

I mentioned in closing the last post, that one such fulfillment which Paul seemed to recognise was that God could not leave the Messiah dead if He were to fulfill the promises made to Christ’s ancestor David. Jesus had been crucified and buried and so if the resurrection had not occurred, one or more realities would be true. There was the unthinkable possibility that God neglected to fulfill His promises. There was the almost as unlikely possibility that the Davidic promises recorded in Scripture didn’t mean what they plainly seemed to mean (though this is not to say people could not be confused on what some of them would look like in reality). Or the final possibility is that Jesus died without receiving the fullness of the promises because He was not the Messiah. The disciples had every reason to believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead and therefore none of these things were seriously in doubt at the point they witnessed the risen Christ and heard Him explain the connection between Himself and the Scriptures. The resurrection therefore fulfils Scripture by being a mechanism by which God fulfils His promises to David (and therefore to Israel and even to Abraham by extension). This is no less substantial than if the resurrection seemed to occur in narrower, precise fulfilment of a range of resurrection-specific prophecies.

Another way the resurrection of Christ can fulfil Scriptures is through typology and embodiment. To borrow from the Christmas story again, when Joseph brings Jesus back from their sojourn in Egypt, Matthew says it fulfilled Hosea’s prophecy “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Matt 2:15, Hosea 11:1). The original prophecy in context was about Israel, without any explicit Messianic overtones. But when Jesus came, He embodied what Israel (as the people of God) were supposed to be in covenant with God. He therefore fulfils Hosea 11 not because the prophet intentionally spoke of the Messiah, but because Jesus was the true Son of God and in a sense the true Israel.

Exodus   The Exodus [1]

Sticking with Hosea, I mentioned in the last post that Jesus’ resurrection “on the third day” might have been related somehow to Hosea 6:2 “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” If this is correct, it isn’t because Hosea was deliberately and specifically predicting the resurrection of the Messiah. Rather it would be because Jesus stands in relation to God on behalf of His covenant people and God fulfilled this prophecy about giving His people life on the third day by raising our representative up on the third day after His death.

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Jonah sculpture [2]

When it comes to a connection between the resurrection and something like Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the giant fish, it’s slightly different. Jesus didn’t mean Jonah’s original readers should have deduced that the Messiah would die and lie in the ground for a number of days, before escaping death like Jonah did. Here it’s better to understand that certain people and events in the Old Testament had experiences and characteristics that in hindsight can be seen as “types” of the Messiah and His life. In citing Jonah’s stay in the fish’s belly, Jesus was effectively using a well known OT figure to illustrate what would happen to Him, and hint at the fact He’d live again after His “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Thus Jesus’ death and resurrection would be like the “sign of Jonah” – a sign which people would either recognise and respond in repentance or fail to recognise and be condemned by.

So hopefully this helps us see how Jesus could fulfil the Scriptures through His resurrection in a broader, even grander sense than what is often conceived as the fulfilment of prophecy. But in the final post I’ll look at the question of whether there could be a few passages that hint at the resurrection of Christ, which we might be prone to miss.

[1] Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing “Biblical illustration of Book of Exodus Chapter 13″ CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia commons.
[2] Sargis Babayan “Jonah the Prophet” CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia commons.

Christ’s Resurrection and the Old Testament? (Pt. 1)

Next week I’ll have the opportunity to attend the Ignite Training Conference and help train a small group of Christian brothers and sisters in the area of Systematic Theology. The topic we typically use for a “practice run” of how to approach Systematic Theology is the resurrection of Jesus. This topic is familiar enough and important enough to help people get a taste for how significant an effective approach to Systematic Theology can be.

But as I did my preparation for the week, it got me thinking about a question that has sometimes troubled or puzzled me. If the resurrection is so important and occurred “in accordance with the Scriptures” – where are the references to the resurrection in the Old Testament? Christians are often a little unsure of how to address the lack of explicit predictions of the Messiah rising from the dead and Christianity’s critics sometimes point this out as a problem with biblical authenticity.

This puzzle can be solved by considering a few things. 1) How do the NT writers and apostles see the resurrection as a fulfilment of OT Scriptures? 2) Can the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection “fulfil Scripture” in a broader, big picture kind of way – independent of explicit predictions? 3) Are there hints in the Old Testament that the Messiah might rise from the dead that can be understood as such in light of the historical reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead?

NT perspective on Resurrection and the OT

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I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalms 16:7-11, ESV)

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know– this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:22-36, ESV)

Two of the central truths that the church has proclaimed about Jesus since its earliest days at Pentecost in 33 A.D. are His Messiahship (He was the King God promised to establish as David’s true and permanent successor) and the fact that after being crucified and entombed for three days, He rose again to life and appeared to many of His followers. In Acts 2, Peter demonstrates how the leaders of the early church (illuminated by the Holy Spirit by this stage) used Jesus’s messiahship as an interpretative key for discerning where the Old Testament might have spoken of His resurrection.

Everything promised to David was (or will be) fulfilled by Jesus and much of what David said, did and experienced during his life in fact pointed forward to his much greater successor. Peter concludes that Psalm 16:7-11 was in fact a prophetic utterance that pointed more to Jesus than David himself, since David evidently died, was buried, saw physical corruption and awaits his own resurrection.

Acts 2:33-36 shows that Peter and the apostles took this further, seeing a proper fulfillment of Psalm 110 as requiring God to enthrone the Messiah in heaven – something that He did not do for David personally and something that would require the resurrection life anticipated by many Jews to come early for the Messiah.

Saul/Paul demonstrates for us that Psalm 16 was probably the primary text considered to refer to the Messiah’s resurrection by the early church, when he echoes Peter in Acts 13 (with a slight remix): “Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but He whom God raised up [i.e. Jesus] did not see corruption.” (Acts 13:35-37, ESV). Saul also cites Isaiah 55:3 and seems to argue that the Messiah needed to be alive to receive the things God had promised to David (a theme we’ll explore in part 2).

There are few other explicit claims by NT writers or apostles about certain Old Testament passages that might point to the resurrection. Paul is happy to say Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” was in accordance with the Scriptures, but we cannot be certain he had a particular passage in mind. Typologically, he may have been thinking of a text like Hosea 6:2 or Jesus’s own references to Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (which He linked to His own death and resurrection, see Matt 12:40), but this fits more with what we’ll look at next time:  “Can the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection “fulfil Scripture” in a broader, big picture kind of way – independent of explicit predictions?”

[1] Picture: Donut_Diva “Easter Empty Tomb” CC BY-NC 2.0 flickr.com