The Joy of His Presen(ts)ce...part 1
by, Oct 8th 2011 at 09:01 PM (635 Views)
'The Beginning, and Before'
Imagine picking up a bible one day and starting at the fifth book of the New Testament, Romans. As you read through the letters you encounter people, places and events that seem so disconnected from the Gospels you have just read. For one thing, this 'Paul' character was not mentioned in the Gospels; where did he come from and why is he writing all these letters? Why is he running around to all these places and writing them letters of encouragement? There is a disconnect between what is described in the Gospels and what this person is writing about. What has happened to all the people you read about in the first four books.
Matthew ends with Jesus telling the 11 apostles to go into all the world preaching, baptizing and making converts in his name. Luke mentions Jesus' Ascension, and one of Mark's endings tells about the disciples preaching and working miracles. John just leaves us with Jesus and Peter talking on the shore of the Sea of Galillee and that is about all the Gospels tell us of what happened after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. How the Gospel moved from Jerusalem and Judea to Rome is a mystery, though this Paul fellow seems to talk about other believers in other cities. All in all, there is a jarring discontinuity that leaves out a lot.
If, in some remote archaeological dig a manuscript should be unearthed and examined, it might seem to fit into the space between the Gospels and the collection of letters from purported 'Apostles'. Peter and John are in this manuscript along with a new cast of characters including Paul. The strange and disconcerting thing is that, while it answers several questions, it leaves some unanswered. We are not told how the Christian community got started in Rome, and if we compare the purported travels of Paul with the letter we have, it is clear that we have only a very letters that correspond to places he went, or traveled through, or actually 'preached' at.
All of that is confusing, but what we do have seems to correspond, roughly with what is written in this new document. Rome, Thessalonica, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus are all represented in this new documents by the one who wrote most of the letters. What is more important, there is nothing 'theologically' or 'doctrinally' that conflicts in either the letters we have or this new document. It could fit. It would make the transition form 'Gospel' to 'Letters' less jarring and a tad more 'logical', or at least less jarring. So if we shoehorn it in, say, after the last Gospel, it seems right at home. Well, as well as could be expected. In addition, it gives a picture of how we go from the Eleven Apostles in Jerusalem, to the presence in Rome of a Christian Community, though we still are not told explicitly how this happened. There is a possible answer for the document itself. It seems that some Jews from Rome were present when the Gospel was preached, and they might have been some of the five thousand who responded favorably to that message and carried it back to Rome.
When we read the document it appears to be addressed to a 'Theophilus', just as is the recipient of the third Gospel. This new document appears to be a continuation of the Gospel that we all know and love by Luke the physician. If we compare the end of Luke to the beginning of this new document, we see a loose corroboration between the two. Where one ends with Jesus Ascending from the hill, the new document has Jesus ascending at the beginning of it, and the story picks up from there. The two seem to compliment one another, and carry a full story from just before Jesus' birth to Paul living and preaching in Rome. In addition, the style and much of the vocabulary of the two documents are quite similar. They both show traces of the writers medical knowledge, training, and practice.
As we have mentioned, the end of the Gospel and the beginning of this new document are linked by common motifs of resurrection appearances and the Ascension of Jesus Christ. The resurrection implies a death, and this is reflected back in Luke 12 where Jesus makes the statement: ' 49I came to set fire to the earth, and I wish it were already on fire! 50I am going to be put to a hard test. And I will have to suffer a lot of pain until it is over.' Jesus did not come to bring peace, and he elaborates on that one, he says he came to bring fire upon the earth, to divide the very families. Also, He knew He had to suffer great pain before it was all over. This double theme of suffering and dividing is foreshadowed in the narrative of his presentation in the temple.
Joseph and Mary, as the law of Moses demanded, went to the temple with the baby Jesus to make the sacrifice demanded. While there in the temple, they 'ran' into two people who were both prompted to come to them, the first by the Holy Spirit explicitly, the second was a prophet which would have put her under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by 'default'. This motif of meeting the Spirit in the temple is echoed in this new document where the disciples meet the Spirit also, and Peter delivers a sermon by the power of that same Spirit. Pushing the analogy a little further, you have Joseph and Mary taking a sacrifice for the baby Jesus to the temple where they are encountered by the chose spokespeople of the Holy Spirit; Jesus gave up the 'temple' of His body as a sacrifice and 'rebuilt' it in three days, and it is through the power of the 'rebuilt' temple, the resurrected Christ, that the Holy Spirit will be sent to His chosen spokespeople.
So, we will stop pushing the envelope and go back to examing the actual contents of the meeting between the young Jewish couple and two curious people in a temple one day in Jerusalem, it's recorded in Luke two. As they enter the temple area, a man named Simeon, sent specifically by the Holy Spirit, approaches them and makes this prophesy:
29"Lord, I am your servant,
and now I can die in peace,
because you have kept
your promise to me.
30With my own eyes I have seen
what you have done
to save your people,
31and foreign nations
will also see this.
32Your mighty power is a light
for all nations,
and it will bring honor
to your people Israel."
So far, it seems good. He declares Jesus as the deliverer of Israel, and a hope for the Gentiles [foreign nations]. Simeon has seen the promised deliverer and he is praising God for that. What he has to say sounds good, if a little off beat, but the parents have been hearing stuff like this all during the birth of Christ. Angels, shepherds, and relatives have added to a very different kind of period in their lives as young parents, one that has been unusual since just before the actual marriage. But, Simeon is not through. He now steps up and adds something that will strike the first discordant note in all of this.
He adds, '"This child of yours will cause many people in Israel to fall and others to stand. The child will be like a warning sign. Many people will reject him, 35and you, Mary, will suffer as though you had been stabbed by a dagger. But all this will show what people are really thinking." So, the baby she holds in her arms, the one whom so many have blessed and praised, will be a person to cause stumbling, falling, and rejection for many. All that happens in His life will show what is in the hearts of many people. Jesus said in Luke twelve that he came to bring fire and division, and that is what Simeon prophesied. The Gospel of Luke chronicles this, and the new document we see also continues this chronicle of rejection and strife.
While Simeon has struck a discordant note, he has also touched on the question of a blessing for the Gentiles. We have a most curious occasion in the Gospel of John chapter ten. He is talking to the Pharisees, as usual, defending Himself against their attacks, as usual, for working a miracle on the Sabbath. All in all it seems like the usual problems that Jesus faced when talking to the Pharisees. Jesus then calls Himself the Good Shepherd, the true one, of His flock. He recounts how the Shepherd lays down his life to save the flock, while the false ones just run away. Jesus is the gate, also, through which the sheep of flock leave and enter the sheep pen; also called the sheep fold.
Twice Jesus talks about laying down His life for the sheep, than He makes this curious statement, " 16I have other sheep that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them together too, when they hear my voice. Then there will be one flock of sheep and one shepherd. " He said, I have other sheep not in this sheep pen that I must bring in to have one flock and one Shepherd. The 'sheep pen' ('sheep fold') is the Jewish nation He is addressing, the 'other sheep' are the Gentiles. This process of 'bringing in' is recorded in the new document along with the strife and divisions caused by the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus. John echoes the strife and fire mentioned in Luke, and then emphasizes the bringing in of the Gentiles to be one flock with the Jewish believers.
Of course, as you know, this 'new document' I am talking about is the fifth book in our collection of New Testament writings. The title of the book, 'Acts', I prefer to call 'The Continuing Chronicles of the Actions of Jesus and the Holy Spirit'. It is a bit longer than usual, but makes my point. As we have seen, both by explicit comment in the opening verses of chapter one of Acts, and by theme and content in the Gospels, 'Acts' just picks up where the Gospels ends and shows the logical conclusion of some themes that are prominent in the Gospels. So, we understand that when Luke wrote Theophilos the second volume of his History, it continued and brought to fruition what was started; indeed, it is still going on in that Jesus is still active among His people, who are the church, which is His body.