On this Sunday we observe the anniversary of the Reformation. And the texts are significantly different.
Instead of an Old Testament text, the First Reading is from the Book of Revelation [14:6-7]. It is an important text when it comes to the Reformation. When Bugenhagen was speaking at the funeral of Luther, he connected Luther to the angel within this text.
This angel is a very special angel. He is flying and 'gospeling' an eternal gospel. Or, if you want to say it a different way, he is evangelizing an 'eternal evangelism'. Either way, you can see some significant emphasis on this special word, EUAGGELION, usually translated as 'gospel'.
That this is a special angel can also be seen in the angel's location. In the ESV, the text says that the angel is flying 'directly overhead'. Literally (and you can see this in some translations), the angel is in 'mid-heaven'. Technically, this angel is not in heaven or on earth.
Why is that significant? I think it is important because the Lamb has just been described as standing on Mount Zion (see 14:1). I cannot think of any other place where one could be 'mid-heaven' than the temple. And on Mount Zion was the temple, and in the temple is where God and man came together. And Jesus had a special bond with that temple.
I mentioned above that this gospel has also been described in a special way in that text--eternal. That is certainly an unusual description; in no other place in the New Testament is it described in that way. I do not think it is a coincidence that the last time the word 'eternal' was used was in describing the length of the reign of Jesus (see 11:15).
When I hear that description of the word 'gospel', I find it distracting when people say that a certain gospel account is the Gospel OF Matthew, etc. This is much bigger than any one person, or even of four people! People die. These men died. And these four men basically wanted their writings to be anonymous. An account is better described as 'The Gospel ACCORDING to....' There is one gospel, and it is an amazing thing, and we get to have four different perspectives on it. It is better to connect that word to the Lord, and the Lord is certainly eternal.
Very few things are eternal. Sometimes people like to exaggerate and say that something is going to last 'forever'. But very few people say that things are going to last 'eternally'.
This may be a good time to reiterate that the word 'gospel' is also an Old Testament word. It is a word that was used when there was important news to be delivered. Usually it was put in place by a king or someone with great authority. The first time it is used is 1 Samuel 4:17. There is a man that brings the news of a defeat to Eli, the guy in charge, and the man is described as 'He who brought the news....'
Obviously that was NOT good news in 1 Samuel 4, but it certainly was important news. And a king wants to know the important news, and he sometimes has important news of his own.
The four parts of the message of the angel in Revelation could all be connected to the importance of a king. The angel said (with a loud voice): 'Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him....'
One should obviously fear a king. He has the power to get of the people that he wants to get rid of. You can see that happened in the Old Testament sometimes. And a king's throne was a symbol of his authority and glory. He obviously had a nice place to sit, and this thing he sat on would show his glory. The king may also serve as a judge. If you want to check out the wisdom of King Solomon as a judge sometime, read 1 Kings 3:16-28. And the word 'worship' literally means to bend the knee toward. That is what was usually done before a king.
The words of that angel do not sound like 'gospel' right away, but they do fit with the message of the most important King of all time. He is the King that is reigning eternally. And he has an eternal gospel, like he is eternal. And that Gospel is very important, like he is important.
It is also interesting that this special angel is evangelizing or 'gospelling' upon the ones SITTING on earth (the ESV says those who 'dwell' on earth). What a great reversal! God is certainly the King. He is eternal and has an eternal gospel. He deserves to be the one sitting. And yet, some people who are kings are the ones who are sitting.
An even greater reversal happened on the cross. We should be there, being punished for our sins. We end up doing a lot of sitting around, thinking that we are great, and we often pretend that we are the king of something. (The soldiers sat around while they guarded--literally 'kept'--Jesus; see Matthew 27:36). Jesus, the Lamb, was in his temple, on that cross, paying the price for us.
God certainly knows how to make his goodness overflow. That is an important message you do not hear from the world. That is the eternal God's eternal 'good news'.
Some of Luther's last words were, 'We are beggars.' This is most certainly true.
The Old Testament text [Genesis 32:22-30] for this Sunday is memorable. It certainly makes you think, especially when the title is something like ‘Jacob wrestles with God (see the ESV)’.
That sort of title invites us to make a guess as to who is going to win the wrestling match. But the story does not turn out as you might expect—and some people say the same thing about the life of Jesus.
For someone to wrestle with God is certainly unique. And Jacob not only wrestles with God, but God looks like a man. (Jacob says that he ‘saw God face to face’ in verse 30.) That gets people starting to talk about Jesus again, the Second Person of the Trinity. He was the appointed messenger to come from the Father’s throne. And so, you might call this ‘Jesus makes an early appearance’.
The typical point of the angel of the LORD showing up is that he has some kind of message to give. The word ‘angel’ means messenger. Sometimes when that angel appears, there is also a miracle. But in this text, we not only have a miracle, but it is a miracle with some significant ramifications, up to the present—literally.
The two wrestled for a long time, and then the ‘man’ touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and dislocated it (see verse 25). The biblical text also says this somewhat unique fact: ‘Therefore TO THIS DAY the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh (emphasis added; verse 32).’
That miracle had significant ramifications, up to the present day that the text was written. And, because of that fact, I see this manifestation of God (and one may think of this being a manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son) as a manifestation that may be connected to the Gospel according to John. As that ‘man’ did something that affected the present day of the writer; Jesus, that miraculous messenger man, did something to make an effect on our present day, and that effect was recorded with that special perspective.
The Gospel according to John is the only gospel account where the writer speaks to those in the present. John did not say that he was writing these things so that ‘future Christians’ would believe. He wrote: ‘…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31).’ With these words, the writer is connecting the significant ramifications of Jesus’ actions to the present day.
You might say that the word ‘written’ in that verse has a hidden meaning that supports this perspective. If you are interested in grammar (not many people are—congratulations if you are one of the very few!), the verb tense is called the ‘perfect’ tense. The focus in this tense is on the result of the action. In terms of time, in one grammar book it says that the ‘focus is on a current condition, the present result of a past action (the italics are in the original; James Voelz, Fundamental Greek Grammar, fourth edition, page 151).’
Although this verb tense is in other places, it is also at the beginning of this gospel account, at the start of the very first quotation. See John 1:15: (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) Although this is not clear in the translation, the crying out (loud) of John the Baptist is in that perfect tense, with the focus on the present.
I do not think it is a coincidence that this verse is also the first time in which the writer has chosen to use the historical present. Literally, the first words of that verse are this: ‘John bears witness….’ There is a double emphasis within this verse that the present is an important time. (The other accounts also use historical presents, but they use them in different ways than this account. Also, this gospel account emphasizes the word ‘answer’ more than the other accounts, and that is a word which is based on the meaning of ‘to turn toward’, as if, at that time, someone is turning toward God, but I can write about that some other time.)
If that were not enough, the unique ‘I am’ statements of Jesus within this gospel account also make a statement in the present. When Jesus says something like, ‘I am the light of the world’, etc., that is true for ALL time.
How did I get on the topic of the present when I started with the oldest book of the bible? We have the same, loving Lord, all the way through.
Like last Sunday, the Old Testament text for this Sunday is also from a rarely used book, the book of Ruth. The text is also from the start of this book [1:1-19a], but I would like to look at the end of the work. (Attention: Spoiler Alert!)
Here are the last few words of the book: ‘Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David (ESV; 4:18-22).’
Those words are called a genealogy. They occur in several other places in scripture (see, for example, Genesis 5, 10, and 1 Chronicles 1-9). And they are usually quickly dismissed as unimportant. But they were important to people—especially those at the end of the line! What I thought was interesting was the footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible regarding the above passage: ‘Boaz is the seventh ancestor named. Ancient genealogies reserved the seventh spot as a place of special honor and importance (Concordia Publishing House, 2009; page 430).’
Our modern culture does not make a connection between words and numbers like the people did in the Old Testament. For the Jews, their numbers WERE letters, and so it was hard to get away from connecting letters to numbers. I have mentioned in the past that the name ‘Solomon’ also means the number three hundred and seventy-five (and that is the number of proverbs in the section of Proverbs 10:1-22:16). And perhaps you already knew that the name ‘David’ means fourteen.
I mention that because the genealogy that occurs at the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew makes a big deal of the number fourteen. And since you have probably overlooked this section of scripture for most of your life, I am giving it here in its entirety.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations (verses 2-17).
Congratulations to anyone who actually read that! Seriously though, it IS an important part of biblical history. Jesus did not just descend from heaven; a stork certainly did not bring him. ALL of these people are important to God. Did you notice that even Ruth, a Moabite, is mentioned? And the writer includes a very interesting piece of information with a concluding emphasis on the number fourteen.
So where was the writer going with that number? Since we cannot interview the writer, all our conclusions must be tentative.
The reader of the above quote may have noticed that, in the first two paragraphs, I italicized some of the words. These words are extra words that did not have to be included. Where the writer is going with these words we also cannot know for sure, but you probably guessed that there have been some guesses.
Rather than list all those guesses, I would like to make the point that they could basically ALL be true. Writing is an extremely multifaceted enterprise. But I have not yet found someone point out that, despite the different additions to the first and second paragraphs, in the original language of the text, the number of words of both paragraphs are exactly the same—eighty-two.
Now that certainly could be a coincidence. But what is even more interesting is that there are thirteen and not fourteen generations listed in the last paragraph. You can count them if you like. And also, if you like, you could read more about this; see Jeffrey Gibbs’ commentary, Matthew 1:1-11:1, the section starting on page 83, entitled ‘Could Matthew Count?’ (By the way, Gibbs mentions in a footnote someone who basically does not think so; can you believe that?)
Although Dr. Gibbs gives some very good alternatives to the thirteen generations in the last section, I would like to add one more. In essence, the writer of this gospel account does NOT want us to focus on the words, but on the Word (see John 1:1).
To have fourteen, fourteen, and then thirteen generations is to have a grand total of forty-one, and that number doubled is eighty-two. Matthew certainly would know how to count—he was a tax collector! But the writer has crafted the genealogy in such a way that he does not want us to focus on the past of certain peoples and their traditions, especially on their long-lasting connections between words and numbers. More importantly is THE ONE to whom Matthew is pointing. He pointed just like John the Baptist did, just like those of the Old Testament, just like those mentioned in the rest of the New Testament, and, hopefully, just like your pastor.
The Old Testament text for this Sunday is from the generally obscure book of Habakkuk [1:1-4, 2:1-4]. With that in mind, I thought it would be good to look at that text from a larger perspective.
To be more specific, I would like to look at the use of questions in the Old Testament. The text for this week, immediately after the introduction, has some pretty serious questions: ‘O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?’
Are these questions important? Definitely!
Sometimes in the text, people are asking questions. And sometimes in the text, it is God who is asking the questions. More specifically, it is usually the LORD who asks questions. The name God is usually used when there are commands involved. The LORD is the One who interacts with his people. To ask a question is to show love and concern—and also patience.
Near the beginning of the book of Genesis, the LORD God has a whole series of questions. He asks the man where he is. He asks him who told him he was naked. He asks him if he ate from the tree that he was commanded not to eat. Then he asks the woman what she did.
Regarding the LORD’s dealings with Cain, he asks him why he is angry and why his face is sad. Then, after the murder, he asks Cain where his brother is. Finally, he asks him what he did.
Perhaps there is a reason that the questions asked by the LORD are not so frequent after that. Certainly, other questions will follow. But the answer to that final question—the same question to both the woman and Cain—is a significant fork in the road.
One can certainly go a lot of different places from there. It is also very easy simply to stay there and reflect upon one’s sinfulness, rather than see the wonderful answer in the gospel, God’s great gift.
One of the further questions by the LORD, farther ‘down the road’, was the following question that he asks himself(!) when talking to Abraham: ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…(18:17)?’ The LORD certainly showed concern and got involved in THAT situation.
That makes the dual question that comes up near the middle and end of Genesis quite appropriate: ‘Am I in the place of God?’ It was asked by both Jacob and Joseph (30:2; 50:19). And it is never ‘officially’ answered, but the LORD God certainly became even more involved after that.
The end of Genesis leaves the reader or listener with the following big question, although it is not stated literally: When will the children of Israel make it back to the ‘Promised Land’? What is worse is that, at the end of the ‘Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament)’, the movement into the Promised Land has not yet happened. Yet they were SO close.
The historical books sometimes have questions like ‘Regarding this particular person, are not the details about him written in this other book?’ (See, for example, 1 Kings 16:27.) The second-last verse of the huge section of historical books has that question. (See Esther10:2.) I assume that the answers to those questions are all ‘Yes’. And that type of question is meant to keep the reader or listener going and learning more.
Now the so-called ‘Book of the Twelve’ is an interesting work. We usually call them the ‘minor prophets’, although one can easily misunderstand that title and think that their message is unimportant. They are only minor when compared to the ‘major’ prophets, the five books of Isaiah through Daniel. (By the way, near the very end of Daniel are some questions about the end times. At Daniel 12:6 is ‘How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?’ And at Daniel 12:8 is ‘O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’)
These twelve important speakers for the LORD are arranged what in what was considered their chronological order, although there is a great amount of debate about when some of those writings came to be. One can say with some certainty though that the earlier prophets are near the beginning of the book, and the later ones are near the end.
Often the length of a work makes a difference in its placement. This is true in some of the ways that the New Testament documents were put together. With the earliest Greek version of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint), the order of the first three books is Hosea, Amos, and Micah (the three longest books that were among the earliest), all in decreasing order.
Below is the name of the prophet (in the order you are most familiar with), the APPROXIMATE century of the work (B.C.; this number is rounded and has been taken from The Lutheran Study Bible), and the number of verses in the work.
Hosea 8 197
Joel 9 73
Amos 8 146
Obadiah 6 21
Jonah 8 48
Micah 8/7 105
Nahum 7 47
Habakkuk 7 56
Zephaniah 7 53
Haggai 6 38
Zechariah 6 211
Malachi 5 55
There are questions throughout these books. Many of them are obvious and answered immediately. I am thinking particularly of Zechariah, when the prophet sees something, and then the question is asked, ‘What do you see?’ (See, for example, Zechariah 5:2.) But there are more significant questions as well.
The book of Jonah ends with a series of serious questions. The LORD does NOT destroy Nineveh, and Jonah basically asks, ‘Is not this what I said was going to happen when I was still at home?’ (For the record, there is no record of him asking this question.) Then the LORD essentially asks this same question two times: ‘Do you have a right to be angry?’ And then, at the very end, the LORD basically asks the following question: ‘Should not I be concerned about those in Nineveh?’
The book of Nahum also ends with a question (3:19c): ‘For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?’ It is a short question, but that is the very end of the book, and so there is an element of uncertainty. And the very next book, Habakkuk, starts with those few but important questions that were mentioned above.
The fifth book of the group (Jonah) ends with a significant question and the fifth from the end (Habakkuk) begins with a significant question (and there is the question at the end of Nahum, right next to the beginning of Habakkuk). That ‘pattern’ may be a coincidence. But, whatever the structure, those questions are important, and they help to push the reader or listener forward to find some answers. And the answers to those important questions can be found in the New Testament more than the Old.