Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Christ Where He Doesn’t Belong

Back in the days when my brothers and I were happily misbehaving in the back row of open Sunday School, we quickly learned how to answer questions for treats. Like performing seals, we tried to outdo one another for a pencil, badge or snack.

Horrible, really, when you think about it.

The idea was that when the superintendent asked a question, the kid who got his or her hand up first won the prize, which naturally encouraged all kinds of cheating. The most effective way to cheat was to stab your arm up into the stratosphere long before the question was finished, and sometimes before it started. The downside was that you really didn’t have a clue what you were supposed to be responding to.

Fortunately, we had figured out that the answer to every Sunday School question was invariably “God” or “Jesus”. So we played the percentages, even if we didn’t know what percentages were yet.

A Little More Sophisticated

Okay, our theology was a little unrefined. Having been told that Jesus WAS God, did it really matter whether we shouted “God” or “Jesus”? When we got a little more sophisticated, we may have incorporated “The Lord” and “Christ” into the mix to sound extra-knowledgeable.

And it turned out it DID make a difference how we used the names of God.

Some Sunday Schoolers didn’t stay around long enough to learn there was a distinct meaning in each name, let alone the significance. Others stayed long enough to figure out that “God” was a general term encompassing Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while “Jesus” was the name of the Son incarnated as man, and “Christ” was the Greek version of the Hebrew “Messiah”, the promised Savior. (“The Lord” turned out to be applicable to Father or Son, depending where you were in the Bible. Don’t get me started on “The Word”, etc.)

Greek and Hebrew

In those happy, blurry years we might not have noticed Christ appearing where he didn’t belong. Since no name of God was any more significant to us than any other, my father could probably have read any Old Testament story and substituted “Christ” for “Jehovah” or “God” without anyone asking “Hey, Dad, what’s that all about?”

Later, of course, I would figure out that since “Christ” is a Greek word, it doesn’t exist in the Old Testament. The concept of the Messiah is there in Hebrew, sure, but the name Christ first shows up in Matthew. So it would be a remarkable oddity to find the Lord Jesus referred to as “the Christ” in an Old Testament story.

Christ and Moses

Nowadays I love finding Christ in scripture where he doesn’t belong, which is to say before the Incarnation. Here’s the sort of thing I mean, from the book of Hebrews:
“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.”
Wait a sec: how did the “reproach of Christ” factor into Moses’ lifestyle choices more than 1,450 years before Christ was even born? Even if he had been informed about Messiah in any detail, surely Moses could not have conceived of a “reproach” associated with him when he decided how he was going to conduct himself in Egypt.

Christ doesn’t belong in this equation, does he?

Christ in the Desert

Well, he doesn’t belong in the desert with Israel either, and yet here he is:
“For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
Who would have anticipated that Christ followed the nation of Israel through the desert from Egypt to Canaan? Yahweh, sure, but Christ? Apparently so. Here’s an interesting thought: I bet there wasn’t a single Israelite who knew he was there. Would you have figured it out? Or would you have known your behavior was “putting him to the test”, as Paul goes on to affirm?

Christ in Eternity

There are more Old Testament places you would think Christ doesn’t belong, but here’s my favorite, which actually takes place before the first verse of Genesis:
“This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is no mere prophet, folks. Here is one through whom God’s purposes in all of eternity are actualized. However long human history may be, God’s purposes in Christ precede it.

Blind Faith …

In all these examples, we have to recognize one commonality (other than the very basic tenet of Christian theology that Christ is eternal, notwithstanding what some of the folks from various pseudo-Christian cults will teach you if you answer the door instead of pouring ice water on them out of an upstairs window).

That commonality is this: Moses, the people of Israel and every other Old Testament character who ever exercised faith (like Abraham when he accepted that in both the immediate and far-flung future God would ALWAYS provide himself a Lamb) had little in the way of specifics upon which to rest it. What did Moses know of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and glorification of Christ? Next to nothing. What did the people of Israel know when they received water, manna and Law in the desert? Even less, I suspect.

Lack of specifics didn’t stop Moses from bearing the reproach of Christ any more than lack of awareness of Christ’s specific presence with them in the desert stopped the Israelites from benefiting from it.

Those in the Old Testament who exercised faith never rested on their own intellectual assessment of the wisdom of God’s plan of salvation. Since they didn’t know what it was, they would have been spectacularly ill-equipped to pass judgment on it, wouldn’t they? They simply trusted in the character of God.

For this the New Testament writers — and God himself — give them full credit for identifying with a Christ who is their Savior and ours.

… That Isn’t So Blind

So what about you and me? Two things:

One: I don’t need to know exactly what God is going to do or exactly how he proposes to do it in order to exercise faith and please him. What I need to do is believe that he is faithful, loving and powerful enough to keep his promises.

Two: Other than maybe hell or the grave, there isn’t really anywhere that Christ doesn’t belong, is there?

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