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Pastor Scott Richards, First United Methodist Church, Post

Reflections of Loyalty

Published Sept. 13, 2012 @ 6 a.m.

He is before all things and in Him all things hold together – Colossians 1:17

Throughout the New Testament there are quotations of Old Testament prophecies used for the purpose of proving that Jesus is really the Christ fulfilling the prophecies of God.  In seminary I was taught that most of these prophecies did not begin as prophecies about the messiah but rather they were prophecies that were about the people of Israel.  This would include Isaiah 53, the song of the suffering servant.  The claim is that it was only after the Easter experience that the prophecies began to be applied to a messiah and they amount to little more than "proof texts" (A proof text is a piece of scripture that is pulled out of its context and used to prove a point whether or not that point actually has anything to do with the meaning of text in the context of the scriptures themselves.)

As far as they go these scholars are correct about the scriptures themselves.  It is clear from the material surrounding Isaiah 53 that the suffering servant is Israel itself.  However, the New Testament authors are not simpletons who are using every scripture they can find to apply to Jesus and explain how God’s “chosen one” could possibly be crucified.  Their understanding of the Old Testament is much deeper than we moderns often give the ancients credit for.

Part of the problem is that we often fail to remember the world view in which the scriptures were written.  That world view is often very alien to western thought today.  In particular for our discussion is the ancient world view that a king was the summation of his people.  We can see this world view in ancient Egypt.

At one time most people thought the pyramids were built by slave labor.  However, most modern theories believe that the Egyptians themselves came as conscript labor to build these pyramids.  As a part of their religion the king had to live eternally with the gods.  The Egyptian Book of the Dead was meant to ensure their proper passage.  Therefore, the Egyptian people thought it was their religious duty to build these great monuments for their pharaohs.

We know from many other ancient cultures that the king represented the people before the gods and the gods were represented to the people by the king.  While there was always a caste of priests the people themselves were summed up in their king.  If the gods were angry with the king they were angry with the whole nation and vice versa.  That also meant that if the gods were angry with the nation it was the king's fault.

We see this world view being played out several times in the Old Testament.  When Samuel crowns Saul king the prophet tells the people that as long as they followed God their king would follow God but when they did not follow God then their king would not follow God either.  When David was king he sinned against God by calling for a census of the people.  God sent a pestilence against the people to punish David.  This was a punishment for David because David was the summation of the people of Israel.

This is a foreign idea here in America.  Each person is responsible for their own conduct.  If a president fails it reflects badly on the president but we, as individual citizens, do not see the president’s failure as our failure.  But in the ancient world view if the king suffered everyone in his kingdom suffered.  And, if the people in the kingdom suffered the king suffered.  If the king failed the people failed.

Before we judge whether anything from such an ancient world view could have any validity we need to look at the empirical evidence and our own world views.  The truth is, when we have a bad president the whole United States suffers.  It is also true that when the whole United States is suffering we tend to blame it on the president.  Everyone still thinks of Hubert Hoover as one of the worst presidents in U. S. history because the stock market crash that signaled the beginning of the worst depths of the Great Depression happened on his watch.  No one considers that all the factors that led up to the Great Depression were in place long before Herbert Hoover was ever elected or that the policies of Franklin Roosevelt (considered by many as the best President) had little effect on the economy of the Great Depression.  It took gearing up for World War II (and the end of drought conditions over large parts of the U.S.) to bring an end to the Great Depression.  Hoover was a bad president because we suffered after he was elected.  The same analysis can be applied to George W. Bush.  How good our leadership is has a lot to do with how well we do personally and how we do personally, when added altogether, has a lot to do with how we view leadership.  There are even those who consider that God reacts towards the United States according to what the government is doing (like allowing homosexual marriage) and the head of the government is the president.  So the ancient world view is not as different from what happens in our world as we might have originally assumed.  And there is some empirical evidence that the world view is correct.

The New Testament authors saw Jesus as The king of the Jews.  Jesus was no longer a king that lived and died but rather a king who always lived.  As such Jesus became summation of the people of God.  In His suffering Jesus took on all the suffering of all the people of God. In Jesus crucifixion all God’s people are crucified.  Likewise, in Jesus’ resurrection all God’s people are resurrected.  Jesus truly become all in all.  This was not a metaphysical move by the New Testament writers, nor was it proof texting, but it was a natural consequence of the ancient world view and its application to their experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When we read statements like those out of Colossians above we see this view of the world in full operation as we read the New Testament.  And realizing the world view of the New Testament authors we might come to some new conclusions about what the New Testament is saying.  Coming from an extremely legalistic society we tend to think of following Jesus Christ as a system of conforming to the commandments and prescriptions of the Bible.  But the New Testament authors were far more interested in being loyal to Jesus Christ.  They didn’t really worry about whether you were doing good or bad for the sake of moral law.  Rather, they were more interested in how actions reflected upon the Name of Jesus Christ.  Relationship and loyalty to the person of Jesus Christ is far more important for us as Christians than fulfilling quotas or making sure things get done.

That Jesus is before all things is not speaking just about time but also about priority.  Likewise, to say that all things hold together in Jesus is not about Jesus being the "attractive force of the universe" as described in astrophysics but rather it is to say that anything worthwhile that happens is ascribed to Jesus and His life in God.  Apart from living in Jesus nothing really matters.

So my life is no longer judged by numbers, results, or efficacy.  My life is judged simply by my loyalty to Jesus.  Everything else flows from that loyalty and in that loyalty everything else happens.  My life can no longer be about me.  I have been bought with a price.  Now my life is all about Jesus because in Him is the only way to have life.  When we begin to catch the consequences of this thought process we begin to be able to think more like a New Testament Christian would have thought and, therefore, to experience life as God would have us to know true life.

 

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