Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Fast God Chooses

Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God.

"Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?"

Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. You fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.

Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?

Is this not the fast which I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Isaiah 58:2-7 NASB

Fasting, as generally understood in religious circles, is an act of self-sacrifice that prepares the one fasting to receive or achieve some spiritual gain. Truthfully, I've never understood such thinking because it seemed to suggest to me that God was somehow impressed with or benefitted by us starving ourselves. As if asking and seeking in prayer might get a response from God, but fasting in a suitably impressive enough demonstration of self-denial is bound to elicit a return call from God. Can spiritual things be that mechanical?

Tithing is promoted, really, along similar lines. If we ask God to provide, he may, but if we tithe he's virtually obligated to! Giving up things we have, things that could benefit us, in order to establish a divine line of credit doesn't seem at all spiritual to me. It's mercenary, manipulative and flesh-catering. I don't buy it one bit! Besides, is either action self-denial if undertaken in order to bring a reciprocal benefit? Would that not be akin to loving those that love us?

If the example of Christ and the words of Isaiah teach us anything about the subject, self-denial actually has to be selfless. I know Jesus endured the cross and its shame for the joy set before him, but that joy was founded in someone else being benefitted. It's not like anything we do, or our life and death, or even our salvation adds anything to God. Self-denial in this regard can only mean losing the personal benefit of what you have available to you so that someone else benefits instead.

Giving, fasting, or any act of self-denial does not rise to the threshold of notice if it is undertaken with a mind to boomerang a benefit back to self. Such acts are not godly nor god-like, just self-centered and selfish. Jesus said his disciples would fast after he was taken from them. I've got to believe he did not have in mind the fasting chosen by the Pharisees, but rather, the fast that God chooses.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Every Eye Will See Him

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be.  Revelation 1:7 NASB
What a summary statement for all that will follow! If one wants to know what the Apocalypse is about, he need look no further than this verse. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is not about Roman persecution, the destruction of Jerusalem, or even the first century in particular, any more than it is just about the last seven years of time just prior to his return. It is about the return of Christ in all it's particulars: what leads up to it, what will happen when it occurs, and what will occur afterwards. So much for the apparent scholarship of Gordon Fee!

For some, a passage like the one above cast doubts upon the dispensational notion of a "Secret Rapture" of the Church. Nothing in the text seems to present anything secretive about the return of Christ or makes its experience exclusive to the Church. One must remember, however, that the catching away of the church (Rapture) is not precisely synonymous with the visible return of Christ to earth.

It is possible to have somewhat coherent schemas of interpretation that equate the two, but I don't see them as biblically accurate. That the two are not the same seems to me well enough evidenced by Matthew 24:36-42, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-5:9, and Revelation 7:9-17. From any of these accounts, I think it can be clearly seen that the beginning of the end (i.e. the catching away) is not the same thing as the end of the end (i.e. the completion of destruction).

There is process to it. The Return of Christ is never presented as an instantaneous event in the Word. There is a beginning, a middle and an end to it. The Apocalypse took twenty-two chapters to unpack what it unpacked about it! It's nature in time requires a story, not a headline to communicate.

At the beginning of his return, Jesus is in the air and the righteous are evacuated or sealed in protection before the outpouring of wrath is uncorked. At the end, Jesus stands victorious on earth, large and in charge. In between, obviously I would think, there is a process that unfolds. How long does that process take? If a day is like 1000 years, and 1000 years like a day to the Lord, how long would 7 years be perceived to be?

At some point during his return, it will be evident that he is passing through clouds and coming to the earth. That aspect of the event will be obvious to all its beholders on the earth--even (or maybe, especially) the Jews whose ancestors missed him in the days of Pontius Pilate. All those witnesses will mourn, the Jews to very good effect. At that point in the unfolding of things there is certainly nothing secretive about it at all.

But given that, what kind of secret is millions upon millions of folk disappearing in the first place?