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18 December 2018

Two types of worship music.

And no, I don’t mean gospel and contemporary Christian music. Yeesh.

There are two types of worship songs we tend to see in churches.

And yeah, some Evangelicals are gonna assume I mean traditional worship (i.e. hymns and old-timey gospel songs) and contemporary worship (i.e. spanning from the worship choruses of the 1970s, to the Christian pop songs of today). I don’t. I consider those styles of songs; the only real difference is in presentation. You could put a backbeat on a hymn and turn it into a pop song; you can put a pop song in a hymnal and sing it with that very same cadence.

Type refers to the purpose and content of the song, and generally there are two of ’em.

INSTRUCTIVE describes the songs written to deliberately teach an idea—to put it to music, and get it into Christians’ heads. They teach us about amazing grace, about what a friend we have in Jesus, about how great God art, and that he’s holy holy holy. They tend to have a lot of verses, various complicated words… and no I’m not only talking about hymns, though a lot of ’em totally fit the description. And a lot fit the other:

MEDITATIVE describes the deliberately simple songs. They have few verses, or lots of repetition; their ideas are basic Christianity, like how there’s wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb, or on Christ the solid rock we stand, or God’s a good good Father. Their purpose is to give us something we already know by rote, and we can sing ’em and not ponder the words… and instead meditate on God and his greatness, and pray to him while our lips go on autopilot. Yep, exactly like when we pray in tongues.

Humans are creatures of extremes. Christians included. Some of us love one type and hate the other. But we don’t always know why we have this preference, and think it has something to do with the style.

So they claim they “love hymns” because hymns are so detailed and deep. (Yeah, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” isn’t. Plenty of others likewise aren’t.) But you can swap the instruments used to perform it—instead of keyboards, electric guitar and drums—and they’ll still like the song… although that guitar solo was absolutely gratuitous. Pop song or not, they seek depth. They want the content of their songs to make ’em think. They wanna be “spiritually fed”—by which they mean learn something. If there’s nothing to learn in the music, they consider it time wasted.

Others, who “love contemporary worship,” might love hymns too… but y’notice they only sing the first verse, over and over and over, and ignore all the other verses. (Which drives the fans of instructional music bonkers.) Sometimes they only sing the chorus and ignore all the verses. Sometimes they make a pop version of the song which eliminates all but their favorite hooks. Again, they’re not singing to learn. They want something repetitive and familiar, which they can use to help ’em focus their prayers, and solely concentrate on Jesus. That, they consider worship; not so much the music, although they love music. Interrupt that meditative time, and they consider it time wasted.

Some of us do a little of one, and a little of the other. And some of us don’t like music at all. Or don’t get what we’re trying to do with it, and consider it dead religion and time wholly wasted. These would be the people who find various excuses to show up for church services in the middle of the very last song: They’re only here for the good parts. Like the sermon, holy communion, getting prayer, or interacting with fellow Christians after the service. Phooey on music.

Me, I’m one of those little-of-one, little-of-the-other types. But my church? Full-on going for meditative music.

17 December 2018

Not allowed to rot.

The apostles were pretty sure this one line in a psalm was fulfilled by Jesus.

Psalm 16.10.

Previously I referred to King David ben Jesse as “the prophet David.” Somebody actually tried to correct me for saying so. I remind you a prophet is someone who hears God and shares what he hears: By that metric David’s obviously a prophet. Considering all the Spirit-inspired psalms he wrote, David’s got more actual prophecy in the bible than Elijah and Elisha combined.

Jesus recognized David as a prophet, Lk 20.41-44 and taught his students to do likewise. Ac 2.30 This is why the apostles had no problem using David for proof texts when they taught about Jesus. One verse they particularly liked to use was David’s line, lo-tittén khacídkha li-reót šakhát/“You don’t give [over] your beloved to see rottenness.” Or in better English, “You don’t allow your beloved to rot.” Ps 16.10 Both Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus quoted it in Acts—Peter in chapter 2, Paul in 13.

Acts 2.22-28 KWL
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene is a man endorsed by God to you
by power, wondrous things, and miracles which God did through him in your midst,
just as you know personally.
23 This Jesus, by the decided counsel and foreknowledge of God,
was given into lawless Roman hands, crucified, and killed.
24 But God raised Jesus up, loosing death’s pains.
For it’s impossible for Jesus to be held by death.
25 For David spoke of him: ‘I foresee the Master before me, throughout all.
Because he’s at my right hand, lest I might be shaken.
26 For this reason my heart rejoices and my tongue exults. Again: My flesh will dwell in hope,
27 because you won’t abandon my soul to the afterlife, nor allow your Righteous One to rot.
28 You make the road of life known to me. You’ll fill me with joy with your face.’ ” Ps 16.8-11
Acts 13.34-37 KWL
34 “Because God raised Jesus from the dead, no longer to go back to rotting,
he said this: ‘I’ll give you the righteous, faithful David.’ Is 55.3
35 Because David also said in another place,
‘You won’t allow your Righteous One to rot.’ “ Ps 16.10

When Jesus died, he was only dead two days before the Father raised him the third day. His corpse wasn’t in the sepulcher long enough for decay to happen. So Jesus’s situation sounds exactly like this line from David’s psalm. To the apostles and their listeners, Jesus absolutely fulfilled it. Better than David himself.

Acts 2.29-30 KWL
29 “Men—brothers—if I may boldly speak to you about the patriarch David:
He died, was entombed, and his monument is among us to this day.
30 Thus, as a prophet, knowing God swore an oath to him—
one from the fruit of David’s loins is to sit on his throne—
31 he who foresaw, spoke about Messiah’s resurrection:
He’s neither left behind in the afterlife, nor did his body rot.
32 God raised this Jesus. All us apostles are his witnesses.”
Acts 13.36-37 KWL
36 “After serving God’s will to his own generation, David ‘slept,’ was gathered to his ancestors,
and rotted— 37 and Jesus, whom God raised, didn’t rot.”

Now. Because your average Christian nowadays doesn’t understand how fulfillment works in the bible, they immediately assume David’s psalm is a specific prophecy about Jesus. It’s actually not, as you can tell when you actually read the psalm.

14 December 2018

The heir to David’s throne.

Yeah, the prophecy’s about Solomon. But Jesus fulfills quite a lot of it.

2 Samuel 7.1-17.

In the 11th century BC the tribes of Israel grew tired of being led by head priests and judges. The previous head priest, Eli, had let his corrupt sons run amok; the current judge, Samuel, likewise had easily-bribed sons unfit to assume their father’s job. Clearly there are some serious problems with hereditary leadership, but the Hebrews stupidly didn’t recognize this (and therefore request democratically elected leaders with fixed terms—not that we elect our best people either). The descendants of Israel demanded Samuel procure them a king. Nevermind the LORD God being their king; Is 33.22, 43.15 they wanted a human king, like all the other nations had. 1Sa 8.5 So Israel got a king.

Kings suck, and Israel’s first two kings were typical rubbish. Like most politicians, Saul preferred pleasing the crowds to following God. His son Ishbaal was really just his uncle’s puppet. But the third king, the prophet David, was a standout: He was far from perfect, but he was bananas for the LORD, tried to follow him wholeheartedly, and the LORD figured this was a king he could work with. Not for nothing does the rest of the Old Testament compare every single king with David.

David conquered the Jebusite town of Jerusalem and made it his capital. He built himself a nice cedar palace in it. (Bit of a status symbol in a land where most houses were made of brick or stone.) Then one day he got to musing:

2 Samuel 7.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when King David sat in his house,
at a time the LORD gave him rest from all his enemies around.
2 King David told the prophet Nathan, “Please look: I sit in a cedar house.
And yet the God-box sits in the middle of sheets.”
3 Nathan told King David, “Whatever’s in your mind, go and do!—for the LORD’s with you.”

The arún ha-Elohím/“box of God,” which we more often call the Ark of the Covenant, was the gold box which contained the Ten Commandments, among other artifacts, representing the LORD’s formal relationship with Israel. He instructed Moses how to build the tent to keep it in, and the head priests had kept it in this tent ever since. And David felt it weird that he got a house, but the God-box got a tent. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? It’s just common sense.

But that night the LORD set Nathan straight: He never asked for a house.

2 Samuel 7.4-7 KWL
4 But this happened that night: The LORD’s word came to Nathan to say,
5 “Go tell my slave David the LORD says this:
You? You build a house for me to sit in?
6 From the day I brought Israel’s descendants from Egypt to this very day,
I’ve not sat in a house; I walk. In tent, in tabernacle.
7 In everywhere I walked with all Israel’s descendants, did I speak a word to one of Israel’s tribes?
When I instructed my people Israel’s pastor, did I say, ‘Why don’t you build me a cedar house?’ ”

See, that’s the downside of temples. Church buildings too. We too often think of them as our God-boxes. That’s where God is… and that’s where God stays. But I’m not discussing the validity of temples today; there’s a declaration the LORD makes in this prophecy which Christians love to apply to Jesus. It’s right here:

2 Samuel 7.8-17 KWL
8 “Now, tell my slave David the LORD of War says this:
I myself took you from the ranch, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.
9 I’m with you everywhere you go. I cut off all your enemies before your face.
I make you a name as great as the greatest names who live in the land.
10 I set a place for my people Israel, and plant a tabernacle under them.
They aren’t disturbed further. Iniquity’s children humiliate them, as they did at first, no more.
11 Like the days I commissioned judges over my people Israel,
I give you rest from all your enemies.
Now the LORD tells you he, the LORD, makes you that house.
12 When your days are complete and you rest with your ancestors,
I raise your seed after you, one who comes forth from your innards.
I establish his kingdom.
13 He builds a house for my name.
I establish the throne of his kingdom for eons.
14 I become a father to him, and he becomes a son to me.
When he commits evil, I correct him with mortal canes, with Adam’s descendants’ whips.
15 My love isn’t taken from him,
like I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your face.
16 Your house and kingdom are guaranteed, before your face, for eons.
Your throne becomes established for eons.”
17 Nathan spoke all these words, all this vision, to David.

Now. This is obviously a prophecy about Solomon, the son of David who built the first temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, who hadn’t been born yet. It also applies to David and Solomon’s descendants: The rest of the house of David, which ruled Jerusalem till the Babylonians invaded—and briefly ruled Jerusalem again when the Persians made David’s direct descendant Zerubbabel governor of Jerusalem.

But by Jesus’s day, David’s house wasn’t in charge anymore. The Maccabees, a family of head priests, stepped into the power vacuum after they overthrew the Seleucids; they evolved into the Hasmoneans; then Herod overthrew them; then the Caesars overthrew the Herods. The Davids hadn’t been in charge for centuries. But according to Nathan’s prophecy, the Davids would be in charge ad-olám/“for time,” which most folks interpret as “for all time,” i.e. forever. So… if God promised David the throne forever, at some point one of the house of David had to retake the throne, right?

And as both Jesus’s genealogies clearly state, Jesus is from the house of David. The gospel of Matthew even begins,

Matthew 1.1 KJV
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

God made sure his Son had a biological claim to the throne. And since Jesus literally rules forever, in so doing, David’s house also literally rules forever. Looks like the LORD wasn’t just being hyperbolic.

13 December 2018

Millennium: When Jesus rules the world.

And those who think it’s coming… and those who don’t.

Literally, a millennium is one thousand years. There’ve been two of them since Jesus’s time.

In Revelation we read about a thousand-year period which takes place after Jesus returns. Since the passage is part of an apocalyptic vision, it’s not a literal thousand years… although certain literalists insist it totally is. I can’t help what they believe. I’ll just point out it’s meant to represent a mighty significant stretch of time. The period of time between King David and Christ Jesus was about a thousand years, so figure it’s as long as a successful royal dynasty, or kingdom, might last; that’s the general idea. Although instead of 300 generations of kings/messiahs, we’ll just have the one king, Jesus.

The millennium gets described thisaway.

Revelation 20.1-10 KWL
1 I saw an angel coming down from heaven,
which had the Abyss’s key and a great chain in its hand.
2 The angel grabbed the dragon and bound it a millennium—
the old serpent, which is the devil, Satan.
3 The angel threw the dragon into the Abyss, and shut and sealed the Abyss over:
The dragon may no longer deceive the nations till the millennium is complete.
After that, it has to be released a short time.
4 I saw thrones. People sat on them. Judgment was given them.
They’re the souls of those beheaded for testifying of Jesus, for God’s word.
Whoever hadn’t worshiped the Beast nor its ikon, nor took its forehead- nor hand-stamp:
They live! They reign with Christ a millennium.
5 The rest of the dead won’t live till the millennium is complete.
This is the first Resurrection.
6 Those who take part of the first Resurrection are awesome and holy.
The second death has no power over them.
Instead they’ll be God’s and Christ’s priests, and reign with him a millennium.
7 Once the millennium is complete, Satan will be released from its prison.
8 Satan will come out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth,
to gather Gog and Magóg into a war. Their number is like the sand of the sea.
9 The nations rose up over the edge of the earth. They surrounded the saints’ encampment, the beloved city.
Fire from heaven came down and ate them up.
10 The devil, their deceiver, was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the Beast and fake prophet are.
They’ll be tortured there, day and night, age to ages.

So. According to the vision, this takes place after the second coming, Rv 19.11-16 after the Beast and false prophet are thrown into the fire, and their allies are killed and eaten by birds. Rv 19.17-21 Yuck. Next Satan itself gets locked in the Abyss (KJV “bottomless pit”), a sort of prison for devils. And this leaves a clear path for Messiah to rule the world unhindered.

All those people who aren’t Christian, don’t know Jesus, don’t even think they wanna know Jesus? They’ll finally get to meet him. The imaginary versions of Jesus in their heads will be irrelevant: Actual living, breathing Jesus will be walking around on Earth again, interacting with people. Christians do a poor job of demonstrating what he’s like, but now Jesus will do that himself. Pagans get to see him as he really is. Skeptics have to deal with reality.

Put into special positions of responsibility and authority are the martyrs, those who died for Jesus and resisted tribulation. Rv 20.4 Some preachers claim this includes every Christian who was resurrected at Jesus’s second coming. 1Th 4.15-17 Including them, they suppose. (They hope.) But it all depends on what they did for Jesus. If you call the average Christian’s life in the United States “suffering for Christ,” I think you’re seriously delusional. Jesus has in mind people who really did give up everything for him, Mk 10.29-31 not wannabes who assume pushback is persecution.

These resurrected Christians will rule the world under Jesus. And finally the world will be led right. With justice and fairness. With grace, forgiveness, and mercy. By judges who share Jesus’s character, and rule like he does. No more do we have to worry about hypocrites and frauds in positions of power; Jesus’s officers won’t be anything like the politicians or pastors we’re used to. They’ll be good rulers. They’ll fix the world.

Oh, it won’t be heaven. Not for another 10 centuries. But heaven’s kingdom will rule the world, and rule it properly. It’s something wonderful to look forward to.

12 December 2018

Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown?

Not really.

Matthew 2.23.

From the third century BC onward, Judeans began to move to the land where northern Israel’s tribes used to live before the Assyrians deported them. Namely in the galíl/“circle” of northern gentile cities—or as 1 Maccabees called it, “the Galilee of the gentiles.” 1Mc 5.15 They wanted to reclaim that land for Israel.

Nazareth was one of the towns they founded. So are all the other towns whose names you don’t find in the Old Testament. Likely Joseph and Mary’s grandparents were among the first settlers of that village. It wasn’t that old a settlement. Didn’t exist in Old Testament times. Wasn’t a town any prophet could point to, and say “That’s where Messiah is gonna grow up.” Though Micah did identify Messiah’s birthplace.

However, Christians are pretty sure one of the prophets did identify Jesus’s hometown, ’cause it says so in the bible!

Matthew 2.22-23 KWL
22 Hearing Archelaus Herod was made Judea’s king after his father Antipater Herod, Joseph feared to go there.
After negotiating in a dream, he went back to a part of the Galilee.
23 Joseph came to settle in a city called Nazareth.
This may fulfill the saying through the prophet: “He’ll be called ‘Nazarene.’ ”

And that is how Jesus became Jesus the Nazarene: His parents moved back to Nazareth and raised him there, far away from the murderous Herods. (Well, till Antipas Herod got made king of the Galilee, but that’s not for another year or so.)

Okay, so the prophet declared Jesus “will be called ‘Nazarene’ ” Great! Which prophet?

Here’s where Christians get stymied. This is not a quote of any bible verse we know about. Certain bibles like to put the addresses of Old Testament quotes in the footnotes, but you’ll notice many bibles don’t even bother. ’Cause it’s not found in the scriptures. At all. Not even in the books the Orthodox and Catholics include in their Old Testaments. It’s nowhere.

Some Christians are gonna insist it is so in the bible—it’s gotta be!—and stretch various Old Testament verses like crazy in order to make them fit. Probably the most popular stretch is to point to when the prophets talked about Messiah being an offshoot (KJV “branch”). This, they claim, really meant Nazareth—because nechér/“offshoot” sounds a little like Nadzarét/“Nazareth.” Some of ’em claim “offshoot” is what the town’s name means in the first place: As a Judean settlement, it’s meant to be an offshoot of that province.

The verse they like to point to most is in Isaiah, where it speaks of Messiah, the offshoot/descendant of Jesse ben Ovéd, father of the great King David.

Isaiah 11.1-5 KWL
1 A sprout goes out from Jesse’s stem; an offshoot of his roots produces fruit.
2 The LORD’s Spirit rests on him, a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge,
a Spirit of firmness and strength, a Spirit of cleverness and respect for the LORD.
3 He enlarges people’s respect for the LORD.
He doesn’t judge by how his eyes see them, or correct by how his ears hear them.
4 He righteously judges the poor. He plainly corrects the land’s meek.
He smites the land with his mouth’s scepter. He kills the wicked with his lips’ breath.
5 Rightness belts his waist. Steadiness belts his loins.

This prophecy can of course describe David himself… but seeing as Isaiah lived four centuries later, it’s not David. Nor the king of Jerusalem at the time, Hezekiah ben Ahaz. It’s a future king, a future messiah; it’s Jesus of course.

But as I said, it takes a really big stretch of vocabulary to claim this reference to a nechér means Messiah is gonna be called a Nazarene. Not that Christians don’t try to stretch it just that far.