The 4th of July brings to light the significance of what is perhaps my favorite parable (Luke 19). To understand the connection, let’s remember exactly how different this day would have been back in 1776.
As the ink was drying on the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War was just around the corner. Whether willingly or reluctantly, every citizen was thrust onto the horns of a dilemma:
- Take up arms as citizens of the new nation and simultaneously condemn themselves as traitors against Britain.
- Take up arms on behalf of the “homeland” (Britain) and fight to quell the rebellion. (Be traitors against America.)
- Play it safe by avoiding allegiance to either country in order to await the end result of the war before deciding. (Be condemned as cowards regardless of who won the war.)
Undoubtedly, there were many reluctant decision makers in the days following July 4, 1776. Many people were going about their lives, doing their work, paying their taxes, and raising their families. Most weren’t politicians. Most weren’t soldiers. They were simply swept into something bigger than themselves. Many were forced to make a decision that they didn’t want to have to make.
This is exactly the scenario that Jesus describes in Luke 19 to help us understand the circumstances in which we’re living. He has declared (and revealed) himself to be the King over all creation – the heavens and the earth. The kingdom of God has come. However, his reign has not yet been fully implemented. And in the meantime, conflict is underway because many people are living in opposition to the King’s reign.
How we emerge into God’s story is determined by how we respond to Jesus’ claim of lordship in the meantime. We find ourselves (along with every person we’ll ever know) on the same horns of a dilemma faced by the first citizens of America back on July 4, 1776:
- We can be faithful to the King and live in faith and anticipation that he will indeed reign.
- We can be appalled that Jesus’ claims lordship over us and live in opposition to him.
- We can try to play it safe and simply go about our own business trying to offend neither Jesus nor his opponents.
The decision is inevitable. Our circumstances have been thrust upon us whether we like it or not. The only question is how we will respond and who we will be in God’s story.
One day, the decision will seem as obvious as it does for us today looking back on America’s Independence Day. Jesus will reign over all creation. Everything will be restored and renewed according to God’s eternal plans for his creation. God’s people will live eternally and immortally, reigning over creation and governing it according to God’s design. We will eternally celebrate what God has done and remember every step we took along the way to be faithful to him, living in response to his goodness and in anticipation of the New Creation.
As the story got underway in Genesis 1-2, God set humanity in place with specific purposes. At the fall, this plan was subverted. Humanity rebelled against God, and all creation bore the consequences. With Israel, hope dawned. All had not been lost. The story had not yet reached its end. A new chapter began.
Apart from the biblical narrative, Christians have struggled with what to make of Israel. The confusion has led to responses in the church ranging from a sense of Israeli nationalism all the way to anti-Semitism. But Israel’s true significance lies within God’s story where they were called to represent humanity by living faithfully before God and to redeem humanity as a witness to the nations (Deut. 4:6).
Blessing. This representative and redemptive purpose began with God’s promise to a man named Abram: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). After subsequent episodes of worldwide destruction and incorrigible rebellion (Gen. 6-11), the promise to Abram was a sign that God’s original plan for humanity’s blessing was not lost forever. God’s redemptive mission began as a particular man was chosen to partner in restoration.
Making God Known. The story continued and developed many generations later following God’s deliverance of Abraham’s descendants from slavery in Egypt. God’s purpose for Israel was further revealed: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). As a kingdom of priests, Israel was to make God known to the surrounding nations that desperately lacked the knowledge of God. They would exemplify the testimony of God’s sovereign deliverance and model genuine humanity in their obedience to God. In this way, Israel would be a witness to the surrounding nations (Deut. 4:6). Through Israel’s national priesthood, Abraham’s blessing to the nations would be realized.
Reigning. Later still, the final aspect of God’s purpose for humanity was reintroduced through Israel’s narrative: cooperative participation in God’s reign. This promise came to Israel’s kingly archetype, David: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Once again, God had not given up on his creative intentions for humanity. He set people in place in the garden to govern creation on his behalf. And now, through the faithful reign of David and his descendants, Israel was to be a witness to the surrounding nations of God’s restored purpose for humanity.
Nuances. However, each renewed aspect of humanity’s purpose in God came through Israel with its own nuance as the story progressed from Creation to Israel.
- The blessing was now conditional & associated with a potential curse (Leviticus 26).
- The knowledge of God could come through both deliverance from evil & oppression and through judgment of sin & rebellion (Deuteronomy 29).
- The throne of David was only established as the people rejected God as their king (1 Sam. 8:7).
Though Israel’s narrative reverberates with many of the same features as creation, a great deal had changed. Creation had spiraled into decay and futility after the fall. Even so, God’s story was progressing:
Israel was set apart as a particular people to represent genuine humanity in the midst of a fallen world and also to be a redemptive witness among the nations through whom the blessing, knowledge, and reign of God would once again proliferate through Creation.
Israel’s chapter, however, was not to be the final chapter in redemption. Despite their high calling, Israel was plagued with the same rebellion that defined the rest of humanity. Ironically, as Israel fell prey to self-obsession as a chosen people, they became more and more like the surrounding nations. Like the rest of humanity, they rebelled against God’s purpose and dominion. So like Egypt and many nations before them, Israel came to know God through the judgment of their sin. In a scene reminiscent of the Fall (Genesis 3), Israel’s Old Testament narrative grinds to a halt with the people once again exiled from their home and from the presence of their God.
Son of David. We know by now that Jesus wasn’t a random act of divine intervention. He’s where all of God’s story came together and turned toward ultimate restoration and renewal. As we discovered last week, Jesus redeemed and fulfilled God’s purposes for humanity that were established at Creation. He also fulfilled God’s calling for Israel that emerge throughout the Old Testament:
- Through Jesus, God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled and all the world is blessed.
- Through Jesus, God’s covenant with Moses and Israel is fulfilled. God is made known, and the royal priesthood reaches its culmination.
- Through Jesus, David’s throne is eternally established – not just over Israel, but over all creation.
A powerful reminder…
As was initially the case for humanity at large, Israel forgot their larger context. Though they clung to God’s promises, they also grew victim to self-interest. They sought God’s blessing…for themselves. They sought the knowledge of God…for themselves. And they sought dominion and authority…for themselves. And when Jesus arrived on the scene, most of Israel was blinded by its own self-centeredness.
This must not be the case for us as Jesus’ followers today. We must remember the story in which we find ourselves. We must resist the same temptation toward self-interest that is left unchallenged when Jesus is reduced to a “personal Savior,” a means of “individual forgiveness,” and an opportunity for “personal relationship with God.” We must not place ourselves at the center of God’s story. We can never lose sight of Jesus. Our Redeemer. Our King.
Instead, we should rejoice that God invites us to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We must embrace his invitation to live beyond our own interests and to take our places as faithful servants within his eternal Kingdom. We must be reminders to the world of what it means to be truly human: to be blessed and to be a blessing, to know God and make him known, and to submit to and someday participate in his reign over all creation.
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)