Cutting the Grass

Cutting the Grass

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the LORD endures forever.”

– 1 Peter 1:24-25 (quoting Is.40:6,8)

Our lives are fleeting; here today, gone tomorrow. Like mist.

“You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

– James 4:14

Depressing? Maybe. But it’s true, nonetheless.

I’m not trying to depress you today, however. Rather, I’ve observed something interesting that I think helps to explain an important spiritual truth, one which is easy to miss.

I have spent my entire life living in New England. The last four have found me near the Canadian border. Winter is very long in these parts. The ground starts to freeze, the snow covers the ground, and white blankets our yard and also the yards of my neighbors for nearly 6 months of the year. This past winter extended nearly into May before the milder days began to outnumber the cold, dreary ones.

There are times in New England when it seems that warm days and green grass will never come again. In fact, one would think, with the inherently short season of life that it enjoys, that we would have compassion on our poor little grass plants, and allow them to flourish unhindered, naturally. You know, real tall, so that the little bunnies can hide in the front yard unseen, and the wildflowers start to grow and shine in their God-given glory.

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This Day

This Day

In the third month of the going out of the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt, in this day they have come into the wilderness of Sinai..                                     – Exodus 19:1, Young’s Literal Translation

Most Bible translations render this passage in the more sensible phrasing, “on that day”, as in past tense, i.e., this is what happened at that time. It is a logical transliteration of the awkwardness of the Hebrew. However, as in so many other places in the Bible, the translators bring us an adulterated version, stripped of it’s deeper midrashic meaning.

We see from Young’s literal translation that the Hebrew says, “in this day they have come”, which seems to change the tense of the narrative. The great Jewish scholar, Rashi, paid careful attention to the Hebrew here and connects it to the Passover event 50 days earlier:

This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.(Ex.12:2)

The inference, which is explicit in Rashi’s understanding, is that the Passover event marks the beginning of months. This could also be understood as the beginning of new life. Fifty days later, Israel reaches the place of Mattan Torah, or the giving of the Torah.

The direct parallel of this event can be found in Acts chapter 2, which records the giving of the spirit, which lighted upon all who were gathered in Solomon’s Colonnade, where they were all in one accord in one place (Acts 2:1). The descent of the spirit and the manifestation of the utterance of foreign languages by non-native speakers, also parallels the Midrash’s rendering of “thunderings” which the people heard from the mountain of Sinai as the “voices of God”(Ex.19:19).

The important picture in our key passage, according to traditional Jewish understanding, is that the people arrived at Sinai in a place of unified repentance.

Clear out of your mind, for now, the tragic events of the golden calf which will soon follow. Here, this day, the nation is repentant and ready to receive the word of the LORD. This month, the first of months, and this day, the day in which new life is given. Continue reading

What is the Goal of the Gospel?

What is the Goal of the Gospel?

“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Heb.10:38, KJV)

The writer of Hebrews states this as part of his argument for standing strong in faith in the face of growing persecution and uncertainty. He is quoting Habakkuk, and this is a rabbinic use of the verse.  The passage in Habakkuk reads like this:

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith…”(Hab.2:4, Koren Jerusalem Bible)

The common perception in Christian theology is that “faith” is the opposite of “works”.  By extent, then, “grace” becomes the antithesis of “Law”.  This false dichotomy is the unfortunate result of the reductionist manner in which the gospel has been been proclaimed since the days of the Reformation generally, and the Great Awakening more particularly. (Of course, all of this has its roots in the Roman Catholic Church’s theological beat-down of Jewish practice in its developing doctrines of the early centuries, but that is the topic of a different conversation to be had at another time).

It is a firing-line style of preaching the message of salvation which places people upon an imaginary precipice, forcing the trembling sinner to choose between the engulfing flames of God’s wrath or the waiting, gentle arms of Jesus.  A romantic notion, no doubt, but nowhere near the actual gospel of Jesus and the apostles.

picture-of-hell

this is how many people view the gospel

One of the results of this approach to the gospel message has been its increasing anti-semitic tone. You see, the Law was given to the Jews, but most Christians think that through his death and resurrection that Jesus has “fulfilled” the Law, thereby “cancelling” it.  Many Christians are sophisticated enough in the scriptures to at least recognize that the Law has not been cancelled, but nonetheless persist in believing that since Jesus “fulfilled” it, that it in effect has no power over the believer.  Subsequently, the Christian, in most Christian expressions, is taught to walk in the “spirit” of the Law, by obeying the Law of Love, taking Jesus’ exhortation to “love your neighbor” as the replacement commandment for all the minutia of Old Testament Law. Continue reading