Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The King

“(The Lord) chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which he loves.  He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.  He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds; from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance.  With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.”  So, says Psalm 78.  David, the shepherd of his father’s sheep became King David, the shepherd of God’s people. 

David was not the first or last of Israel’s and Judah’s kings, but he was the greatest – the one that all the others were measured against.  His kingdom stretched even beyond the borders of the land that God promised to Abraham.  David was ruddy and handsome, a skilled musician, a passionate poet, a fearless warrior, a charismatic leader, and a cunning politician.  He wasn’t perfect, but he had all the attributes one would look for in a king.  Yet, when he was first anointed, no one could have imagined that he would have been God’s chosen one.  David ruled God’s people with equity and justice.  He was a man after God’s own heart.  He learned to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind, even if he at times failed to love his neighbor as himself.  And when he wavered in his love of God or neighbor, he confessed and repented of his sin. 

But sadly, David’s Kingdom would not last forever.  After his son Solomon failed to seek the Lord, the way David had done, much of the kingdom was torn from David’s grandson, Rehoboam.  Most of the rest of David’s descendants ruled Judah poorly, leading God’s people into sin and idolatry.  It got so bad that the Lord finally handed his people over to destruction and captivity.  For nearly 600 years, God’s people were without a king.  But they weren’t without hope. 

They hoped that one day, God would restore to them a king from the line of David who would defeat their pagan oppressors and expand the borders of Israel farther than they had ever been.  Many of the prophets spoke of a deliverer to come and some of the Psalms, especially Psalms 2 and 110 hinted at similar ideas.

But just as David seemed to be an unlikely choice for king, so God finally chose to deliver his people in a most unexpected way.  Rather than attacking the Roman legions on horseback, leading an army wielding the typical weapons of war, God’s anointed, Jesus, rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey.  The real enemy he came to defeat wasn’t the pagan oppression of the Roman Empire, but the enemy of all of humanity – sin and death.  And instead of sitting on a throne in the middle of Jerusalem, Jesus, the true King, was enthroned upon the splintered logs of a Roman cross.  God’s victory would be won, not through violence and vindictiveness, but through submission and surrender. 

One of Judah’s prophets had laid out the blueprint of how God would ultimately win his victory, but most of Jesus’ contemporaries failed to grasp the message.  Hear the words from Isaiah 52 and 53. “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.  Just as there were many who were astonished at him…so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him…Who has believed what we have heard?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.  When you make his life an offering for sin…Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great…because he poured out himself to death…and made intercession for transgressors.”

In his life and ministry, Jesus was everything that the kings of Judah and Israel had failed to be.  In his life and ministry, Jesus was everything that the people of Israel had failed to be.  They were to be a light to the nations and to be that suffering servant described by Isaiah.  But they had failed in their God-given vocation.  But Jesus was faithful and did not fail.  He was faithful, all the way to death.  All of humanity had been called by God to be his image-bearing creatures to the rest of creation, and of course, we’ve all failed in this vocation as well.  But Jesus, the true human, the true Israelite, and the true King, was faithful, and completed the task that none of us could complete.  God the Son, showed us what it truly means to be human.  Jesus has forever bridged the gap between God and us, by becoming one of us.  He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!

An early church hymn, quoted by the apostle Paul, said it this way.  “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We serve a risen and exalted King.  May we live this day, and each and every day in hopeful expectation as we await the return of our King! - Shay

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Warrior Poet

“In the year of our Lord, 1314, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn.  They fought like warrior poets.  They fought like Scotsmen.  And won their freedom.”  So the movie Braveheart ends.  The hero of the film, William Wallace has died.  He’s martyred for the cause of Scottish independence, but his legacy lives on through his fellow Scotsmen, and most importantly, in the heart of the flawed figure, Robert the Bruce, who leads his countrymen to victory over the English, and gains the Scottish crown.

But this one line stands out at the end of the film.  “They fought like warrior poets.”  Warrior poets.  What an evocative description, capturing ruggedness and tenderness all in one.  The mind and the body - art and practicality - coming together in a kaleidoscope of savage beauty.  For me personally, I can’t think of a way I would rather be described.  Whether I am much of either a poet or a warrior, I’m not sure, but at my best, I aspire to be both.

David was both.  In 1 Samuel 18, we’re told that after David had defeated Goliath, the women came out of all of the towns of Israel dancing and singing, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Later, to win the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage, David provided Saul with 100 foreskins of the Philistines.  Presumably, David was forced to kill these enemies.  It’s unlikely they would have parted with that particular part of their anatomy otherwise.  In fact, David was such a warrior and had shed so much blood, he was told by God, in 1 Chronicles 28:3, that he was not to build the temple. 

But David wasn’t just a fighter, he was a writer too.  A poet.  Many of the Psalms are attributed to David and they are some of the finest poetical writings in the history of the world.  Many of the psalms that we use in worship are attributed to David.  Just listen to some of these lines.  “You, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head…O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all of the earth…The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge…The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is my stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid...The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over the mighty waters.  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.  The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon…Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit…I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God…As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” 

I could go on and on.  This only skims the surface of all the psalms attributed to David.  He was a poet, rivaled only by a few over the past 3,000 years.  And his poetry sprang from his deep and emotional relationship with God.  Like the time he danced with all of his might before the Lord and before any and all who were present.  Though his wife Michal was embarrassed by his lack of restraint, David was willing to make himself vulnerable before others out of his sheer jubilation at welcoming the Ark of the Covenant into his royal city.

I believe that both men and women would do well to embrace some of David’s raw emotion and vulnerability in our relationship with God and in our relationships with one another.  As both a warrior and a poet, what stands out in David’s life was his passion.  He gave 110% in everything he set his hand to – whether the sword or the pen.  David was one of the most passionate people to have ever lived.

But David was not the most passionate person to have ever breathed the breath of life.  That description is reserved for none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  It’s no wonder that we refer to his death upon the cross as The Passion.  It was Jesus’ passionate relationship with his Father that enabled him to go all the way in his life of obedient submission – all the way to death on a Roman execution instrument.  He held nothing back – he laid it all on the line.  Jesus never wrote a word that was preserved for posterity, yet his poetic life is written on our hearts.  And though his battles were fought without the weapons of war, there’s no greater warrior than the one whose death and resurrection brought victory.  

The passion of the ultimate warrior poet inspired the apostle Paul to write the following in his letter to the Philippians.  “…whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but one that comes through the faith of Christ…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”  May this be our passionate hope as well!  - Shay

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Shepherd

When we look back at our lives, I’m sure most of us can see the various ways that God has prepared us for where we are now and what we are presently doing.  Back then, we may not have been aware of how God was building our knowledge, experience, or character, but now in hindsight, we can see God’s method in the madness.  It’s been said that we live life going forward, but we only understand it looking backwards. 

What would have been the best training for a future king of Israel?  How might God prepare someone who would rule and lead his people? Looking after a bunch of dumb, defenseless, and smelly sheep might not be the most intuitive answer.  But that’s exactly where David found himself in 1 Samuel 16 when he was anointed as the next king of Israel.  How did his role as a shepherd prepare him to lead God’s people?

          Being a shepherd at that time and place took a lot of courage.  In 1 Samuel 17, David spoke to Saul before he went out to battle Goliath.  “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down and kill it.  Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God…The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”

          As a shepherd, David was willing to put his life on the line to protect his dad’s flock of sheep.  When the little lambs were in harm’s way, David engaged in hand to hand combat with dangerous and wild animals to ensure that his father lost none of those entrusted to his care.  It wasn’t easy, but David wasn’t alone in this venture.  He relied on God to protect him and deliver him from danger.  In fact, rather than self-reliance, David practiced God-reliance, not only as a shepherd of his father’s sheep, but later as a shepherd of God’s people.  The shepherd was a common metaphor used to describe the role of a king in the ancient Near East, and in David’s most famous Psalm, Psalm 23, the metaphor of God as a shepherd bleeds into the actual description of God as our King.

          “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me besides still waters; he restores my soul.  He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”

          As much as anything, David’s time as a shepherd taught him to rely wholly and completely on God, his true shepherd, his true king.  More than anything else, that equipped David to be the ruler and leader of God’s people later in life. 

          David’s life as a shepherd points us to another shepherd who lived about a thousand years later.  John chapter 10 paints the picture for us beautifully.  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

          David, the shepherd, was willing to risk his life to protect the sheep of his father, Jesse.  Jesus, the good shepherd, freely laid down his life for his Father’s sheep.  What David was willing to do, our shepherd, Jesus, did do - to the fullest possible extent.  So, we can join David in proclaiming, “The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want…Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”  - Shay