Is it Real or is it…?

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If you are old, like me, you remember the ad for cassette tapes which asked, “Is it real or is it Memorex?”

Sometimes we have to ask if something in the Bible is real or symbolic.

This week I am thinking about Babylon and Jerusalem.  These are real places.  The Biblical story of Babylon begins with Babel in Genesis 11.  The real city/state/empire of Babylon was a looming threat for much of Judea’s history.

And yet Babylon takes on a symbolic role.  St. Augustine spoke fo the City of God and the City of Man.  The City of man is where people deny God and love themselves.  The city of God is where people deny themselves and love God.  Babylon becomes a symbol of this “city of man” in scripture.  The Fall of Babylon in Revelation 17-18 is not just about the location in present day Iraq, but about a world system of government and living that is hostile with God.  Babel/Babylon is symbolic of this stemming back to the goals formed on the Plains of Shinar (Genesis 11:3):

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…”

Jerusalem was a Jebusite city taken over by King David and selected because of it was a place where wrath was stopped by Sacrifice.  It is also identified with the location where Abraham was to offer Isaac in Genesis 22.  There we find a pregnant promise, “…on the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

From the idea that Jerusalem was the home of the King and the location of the Temple, we have a combined hope of glory and grace.  Jeremiah’s the historic city has never lived up to that promise. Consider the description of Lamentations 1:1-2

How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherousl

Isaiah 2 and Revelation 21 share a vision of Jerusalem as a place for the Nations to live in the knowledge and blessing of God.  The citizens of that City of God are those who are born there by faith – as we find in Psalm 87 (NIV)

He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are said of you,
    city of God:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon
    among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
    and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her,
    and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The Lord will write in the register of the peoples:
    “This one was born in Zion.

As they make music they will sing,
    “All my fountains are in you.”

So when you read Babylon or Jerusalem, ask if it is Real or Symbolic.

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Christmas and the messy Family Tree

advent.wreathThis Advent I am preaching twice on the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1-17.  It turns out to be pretty interesting.

In verse 1 and 17 Jesus is linked to Abraham, David and the Babylonian captivity.  This is how the family tree breaks out in the verses between.

  • Abraham to David is where the history of Israel goes from start to golden age.  We could call this section of history “creation” in the sense that God created and shaped a nation to be a blessing to the world.
  • David to Babylon is where the history of Israel falls on hard times.  David is both the high point and the dividing line, because of his adultery and murder, the House of David starts a sharp descent.  The kings that follow are mostly bad, even the good kings such as Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah are flawed. This section of the history could be called the “fall”.
  • Babylon to Christ is the story of Restoration – slowly with many starts and stops – the nation is restored under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. But it ends in the birth of the Messiah.

So the family tree shows a parallel to the history of salvation;  Creation, fall and restoration.

There are three important titles:  son of Abraham, son of David and Christ.   Jesus was born to fulfill the calling to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, he is to be a good ruler from the line of David who brings peace to the nations, and he is the Anointed one – the Messiah who was promised from the prophets on.

Then there are these odd additions to the family tree.

  • Tamar who was tricked by her father in law out of her rights who then turned a trick on him.  This Gentile adulteress-trickster is int he line of Christ.
  • Rahab was a prostitute who put her trust in the God of Israel
  • Ruth was a gentile who took the faith of her husbands people as her own.
  • “the wife of Uriah” is Bathsheba, who was the “other woman” in David’s life, yet she is also the mother of Solomon and in the line of Christ.
  • Mary, an unmarried young woman who carried a child under very unusual circumstances.

So the Gospel comes as a fulfillment of the historic promises of God to Abraham and David.  It is also a promise that the Messiah comes as part of the history of sinners.  He did not come to a world that looked like most Christmas cards, but to one that looks like the real messy world we actually live in.

The mission of Jesus is for messy people.  Good thing that.

A Money Question

round tableI was at a local business group lunch and sat at a table with two men who run a dance club and another who works with a service agency.  When I said what I do, it led to a few interesting questions about Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and money at the end of the world.  The question was, “Doesn’t the Bible say that money will someday be worthless?”

So I looked up what it says in the book of Revelation about what happens to money at the end of the world.  There are two relevant passages

Revelation 13:11-17 11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. (NIV)

This passage speaks of a time where a political and religious combination of power will result and all use of money will be limited to those who receive “the mark of the beast.”  This has led to lots of speculation about credit cards, tattoos and implanted electronic devices.  Conspiracy theory stuff that is just slightly scary considering what technology is capable of – just watch a police show and see how they can track you by your cell phone, credit, debit card and car gps device.

Revelation 18:11-17 – 

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’  (NIV)

This passage is about Babylon.  This is a Biblical symbol of rampant materialism and a twisted morality that places money and pleasure over truth.  Just before the end of all things, this system will fall.  The passage is the lament of all those who were rich and successful in that system.

So watch out for the “mark of the beast” (Rev 13) and the “whore of Babylon” (Rev 18).  A less apocalyptic piece of wisdom is from the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Matthew 6:17-19 – 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (NIV)