(Lazy summer holidays, Cape St. Francis – pic by Justin Mulder)
As we contemplate 2016 as disciples of Jesus, what do we see in terms of our own lives, our nation and indeed the nations of the world? [disciples?? Dietrich Bonhoeffer: if we are not disciples of Christ we are in fact not Christians] [Leonard Sweet: in the NT ‘disciple’ occurs 269 times, ‘Christian’ 3 times and ‘leader’ once – Sweet suggests that the biggest problem in the Church today is that it’s filled with ‘Christians’ and ‘leaders’ rather than ‘disciples’]
As I thought about THE WAY FORWARD as a South African believer, I had to do some soul-searching. Many of my fellow-citizens, no matter race or culture, would agree that we currently are saddled with a national leader reckoned as by far the weakest in recent history, besieged by a Stalingrad of corruption charges, etc. So what is my response to ‘Church and Power’ at this time? A reading of Romans chs. 8-16, including the well-known passage in 13:1-7, has provided some answers but the outworking remains challenging.
Three things stimulated me in this soul search…
- 1st, the recollection of a sermon I heard many years ago by well-loved Kalk Bay Bible Institute Principal, Murdo Gordon (I loved his broad Scottish accent). His text was Zech. 8:23/KJV, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We shall go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” He had done his homework and applied his text not to modern Israel in the way so loved by dispensationalists and their ilk today, but far more broadly to post-exilic Israel under Zechariah, and finally to the Messiah and his new Israel.
- 2nd, a sermon on Afrikaans radio by Prof. Malan Nel of Pretoria University on the last Sunday morning of 2015. He spoke with great passion, a careful grasp of Rom. chs. 8 and 12, and with a prophetic edge: in essence he gave a clarion call to true discipleship. Talking with church leaders all over the world, they all expressed serious concern about the mediocrity of discipleship in the Church. Prof. Nel expressed the need for a new, radical discipleship, lived out in society.
- 3rd, in preparation for a spirituality forum in our city, I was asked to read a chapter of Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines. I was greatly helped by his final chapter, ‘The Disciplines and Power Structures.’ Some of his insights reflect below…
So what did and what does Zech. 8:23 say to God’s people?
The immediate context [we can’t skip the interim centuries to our own context as if God’s word was only written for Westerners today]. Zech. 8:23/NIV reads, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” The young prophet-priest Zechariah, born in Babylon, begins his ministry with a call to repentance. All Israel’s troubles related to their fathers’ persistent rejection of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. What Judah needed now was not simply a new temple: she had to re-build the foundations of a new society, based on repentance toward God and his ancient moral values. Zechariah re-inforces his message by means of apocalyptic ‘night visions’ (ch. 1-6), the symbolic crowning of Joshua as high priest (6:9-15), a promise regarding Judah’s future (chs. 7-8), and a glimpse of a glorious messianic age yet to dawn (ch. 9-14). In our text specifically, the young prophet speaks about the ten-fold expansion of the Jewish faith, as every Jew brings with him ten Gentiles who are anxious to accept his way of life. The phrase ‘God is with you’ was a familiar one: long before Isaiah had used it in his Immanuel prophecy (Is. 7:14; 45:14), looking forward to a day when a Jew would draw all men (Jew and Gentile) to himself.
Now our context. [I’ve always understood the ‘prophetic’ and ‘realisation’ in terms of a pebble skipping across the surface of a pond a number of times before disappearing]
- Jesus, that ‘one Jew,’ comes as the Messiah of people from every language and nation who take firm hold of his robe. Jesus understands his kingdom-mission in terms of the OT. Unlike the expectations of 1st-century Judaism, he does not come with a political kingdom protecting the interests of Jews only, nor does he resort to military overthrow of the oppressing Roman regime. Rather he comes humbly in the spirit of Zech. 9:9-10 to establish a reign of forgiveness, new life, righteousness and peace. Later he outlines this in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt. ch.’s 5-7) [Dallas Willard states that a radical disease (sin and idolatry) calls for a radical cure, viz. living the Beatitudes via the pursuit of the traditional spiritual disciplines]. Jesus follows this up with a commission to ‘disciple all nations’ in the power of his love (Mt. 28:16-20), beginning with ‘our neighbour’ (Mt. 22:34-40; Lk. 10:25-37).
- The key then to personal/ecclesiastical/national/global change is Jesus, the true Jew, and his ecclesia, the new Israel. No one can argue against the fact that God’s clear and repeated call for his covenant people Israel to be ‘a light to the Gentiles’ (Is. 42:6, 49:6; etc) was consistently resisted by a rebellious and inward-turned people since the beginning of time. To this end Jesus dealt decisively with the temple in Jerusalem (cf. Olivet discourse in Mk. 13:1ff; Mt. 24:1ff), whose destruction by Roman Emperor Titus in 70 AD was complete [the temple stones (some, according to Josephus, 37 ft long, 12 ft high and 18ft wide) were prized apart to get to the molten gold leaf from the temple roof]. It was hence the task of ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. 6:16), i.e. his ‘new covenant’ and Spirit-indwelt people (Jer. 31), his ‘new Jerusalem’ comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles to be ‘the light of the world – like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see’ (Mt. 5:14/NLT). After all, we are all children of Abraham by faith! (Is.63:16; Jer. 31:33-34; Jn. 8:39; Rom. 2:28-29; Heb. 8:10-12; 1 Pet. 2:9-12; Rev. 21:22-27).
- We do not fulfil Zech. 8:23 as mere individuals but as a corporate people of God, incarnating Jesus’ life in small communities of good news, faith, justice and peace. It was so in the early Church which turned the world upside down (Acts ch.’s 2,5,8,13, etc), it will be so today and the days to come. Dallas Willard concludes his book on the disciplines on an optimistic note, “As the church of the Lord Jesus Christ turns in its full energies to perfecting those in its fellowship where they reign by and with Christ as in Rom. 5:17, the power structures of this present world, which permit, even encourage the crushing waves of evil to roll over humanity, will be dissolved. They will be replaced by other structures anchored in the redeemed personalities distributed throughout society, stabilizing whatever evil may remain in the human heart so that it cannot build to the mass the phenomena now seen… The quality of our social life then – though no doubt to be very different in many details and particular arrangements – is accurately captured in these words of Athanasius, characterizing the Egyptian communities under the influence of St. Antony: ‘Their solitary cells in the hills were like tents filled with divine choirs – singing psalms, studying, fasting, praying, rejoicing in the hope of the life to come, and laboring in order to give alms and preserving love and harmony among themselves. And truly it was like seeing a land apart, a land of piety and justice. For there was neither wrongdoer nor sufferer of wrong, nor was there reproof of the tax-collector [the most despised of people]; but a multitude of ascetics, all with one purpose – virtue.'”
As at the year-end I reviewed my own life and ministry in the light of the above, I concluded that perhaps God’s plan for my family is at least somewhat aligned with his purpose for all ages [see ABOUT at the head of my blog].
Let us all by grace once more take hold of the robe of that one Jew, and God will be glorified!