Thursday, August 18, 2011
Whose side is God on?
For generations Christians have been left with the nagging question of what do we do with the children of Israel? Do we leave the Jews alone figuring they have their own path to God and their own covenant with which to related to Him. Do we judge them for their rejection of Jesus (as many have done)? Do we consider them brothers or enemies? Friends or adversaries? We have such trouble understanding how God's mercy operates. It seems like God chose a side and then switched sides. This is a personal question since we want to make sure we are on God's right side.
This was also a personal question of St. Paul. Though there is hardly a more Jewish Christian in the New Testament, but it was kosher St. Paul whom God called to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. It was a bittersweet situation for St. Paul – while he rejoiced at the faith of the Gentiles, he lamented the unbelief of his own people, the children of Israel. But at the same time it was Paul who insisted that God has not rejected His people. God has not changed sides in the middle of the game. In fact, God is always on the side of the Gospel, the only truly inclusive Word with hope, grace, and mercy to every people of every place.
It is this Paul who said "all things work together for good." So when it comes to the Jews, he looks for the good that God has made come of out this seeming defeat. For Paul, the very unbelief of the Jews urged on the open door to the Gentiles. Paul was surprised by this but God knew what was to come and God would not be deterred in widening the door of His mercy to include the Gentiles, that His house might be a house of prayer for all people. God always acts out of pure grace in Christ and so this is about grace.
Paul reminds us that those who refuse to believe in Jesus are not our enemies but our very mission. We are not merely sent to those who respond to the proclamation of the Word but to the world, and especially to those from whom the prophets and patriarchs came, who pointed to Jesus. We are the witnesses of God to all people, how, in Jesus Christ, every barrier and division has been broken that God may raise up one people for His own.
That God loves all and wills that all people are saved and come to the knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ is clear in Scripture. This is not a pipe dream; this is God speaking. For God so loved the world... not part of it but all of it. For God so loved the world that He gave up His only Son to be the Savior and Redeemer of all. God cannot forget the people of His promise any more than He could forget those who lived outside of the nation of Israel. God loves all people but His love is wide enough to cover all people with His promise of salvation – those through whom He sent forth His Son and those who were estranged from Israel but are now God's people as well.
God's gifts and calling do not come with an expiration date. His grace and covenant are not like a jar of mayonnaise that must be tossed out by a certain date or it will go bad. But at the very same time, the children of Israel mistakenly thought this covenant was about them when it was about their most noble son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God's gifts and grace always point to Christ. Mt. Sinai, Mt. Gerazim, and Mt. Moriah all point to Christ. This is what the children of Israel missed. They thought they were chosen because they were special; instead they were special because they were chosen, the ones from whom God would raise up His own Son, the Word to the world of hope for the world. If any are to be restored, it will be in Christ.
The children of Israel saw more of themselves than Christ in the Word of the prophet. In the same way also, they saw redemption as their right and forgot the gift only comes into focus in Christ Jesus. The Old Testament was not their story but Christ's story. It is how the disobedient learn obedience always through the obedient One – through Jesus Christ.
The great surprise of grace is not that grace brings forth faith but that it brings forth faith where we least expect it! The Old Testament and the Covenant of Moses both point to Jesus Christ. His love bids, invites, and woos us to become the people of god through faith.
So what do we do with the Jews? We give thanks for the patriarchs and the prophets whom God raised up to point to Christ. We acknowledge that it has always been about Christ – that God's salvation history may have unfolded through the children of Israel but its goal was the salvation of the whole world. Not all of Israel saw this but the faithful remnant did.
Second, we do for them what they did for us – we point them to Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the prophet's promise, the keeper of the Law, and the righteousness of all who will receive Him. God has not changed sides – His side was always the side of Christ and Christ's side is the side for the sake of the whole world. The reason this is so important is because if God can change sides, then our salvation is just as fragile and uncertain. But if the side of God has always been and will always be the side of Christ, the salvation is for all and open to all and our place is secure in grace.
When we ask if God has rejected the people of His promise in the Old Testament, we are asking ultimately about the future of our own salvation. Paul understood this. He understood that it was never about choosing one side or another but always the side of Christ where all people find redemption and hope. In Christ God is on the side of all people. This is the message that made its way even to the dogs who begged for crumbs from God's table and this is the message that will save those for whom God set the table in the first place. It was never a choice between one people or another and it was always about Jesus Christ, through whom every lost sinner is found by grace. As God has shown mercy in Christ to us, we speak of His mercy for all and to all.
I went to a Titan's pre-season game last night. In the sea of Titan blue, one guy wore a purple Viking shirt. Somebody around me said that the guy wears the colors of the opposing team to every Titan's home game. What side is he on today? Well, we know which jersey God wear. It is the jersey of Christ, the team color is the color of blood, and this team welcomes all comers with grace, forgiveness, and life. And don't you forget it!