Justice Executed | The Voice 11.02: January 10, 2021

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Justice Executed

Be careful regarding what you request in prayer; you may just receive it.

The prophet Habakkuk saw a burden, or oracle, at some point before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE (Habakkuk 1:1). The event would take place during Habakkuk’s lifetime (Habakkuk 1:5); therefore, he is some sort of contemporary of Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel (ca. 615-586 BCE). We do well to consider Habakkuk a prophet of Judah in these final days of the first Temple.

Whereas we today understand those days to be the end of Judah, it was not thus apparent to the Judahites of the time. Habakkuk was dismayed and distressed regarding his fellow Judahites and their behaviors. He cried out to God for help, deliverance, and particularly the execution of justice: violence was all around, people wantonly destroyed, the tension of conflict endured, rife with strife, and the forces of wickedness seemed to overpower the forces of righteousness: the law was toothless, and justice was perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Habakkuk’s concern and description is consistent with the portrayal given by Jeremiah and Ezekiel: despite Josiah’s reforms, the people continued to serve idols, the rulers entrusted themselves to their foreign policy machinations, the wealthy prospered, the poor remained marginalized and oppressed, and all the people carried on as if YHWH would never allow any foreign nation to overthrow His house in Zion.

Many similar laments have been uttered by God’s people in distress at the violence and injustice around them, but few have received an answer from YHWH, especially in the way Habakkuk did.

God had certainly seen the violence and injustice, and He was about to act. He would do a work which Habakkuk would see but would not believe even though it was told in advance (Habakkuk 1:5). YHWH was lifting up the Chaldeans to come and possess lands not their own. Their army was dreadful and terrifying, hastening to devour, fierce as wolves, looking for violence, marching straight forward (Habakkuk 1:6-9). They scoff at kings and princes and would deride every fortified city; they would pass over as a wind (Habakkuk 1:10-11).

At this moment the Chaldean army would have been a terrifying prospect indeed. They had allied with the Medes to not only defeat the Assyrians but completely destroy Nineveh and other cities and eliminated Assyria as a going concern. The Chaldeans had taken over the Mesopotamian and Levantine portions of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and could raise a large army. They had soundly defeated the Egyptians, the only other local power of significance, twice. YHWH was their only hope against the Chaldean army, and if YHWH Himself was bringing that army against Judah, all hope was lost, and all that remained would be a terrifying expectation of death and destruction.

Habakkuk no longer wondered if YHWH had noticed the violence and injustice in Judah. Nevertheless, YHWH’s answer distressed Habakkuk. Habakkuk was not distressed about what would happen to Judah: YHWH was eternal, and Habakkuk was confident God would leave a remnant of His people according to His promises, even if the rest would perish in judgment (Habakkuk 1:12). Habakkuk’s distress centered on the agent of YHWH’s destruction, the Chaldeans: is not God of purer eyes than to look upon evil and perversity? Then how can God hold His peace and even actively facilitate an even more wicked and perverse people, the Chaldeans, to overcome the Judahites, who are comparatively more righteous (Habakkuk 1:13)? Habakkuk compared people to the fish of the sea; the Chaldeans were as fishermen who cast a wide net and caught many fish, were very happy, and then offered sacrifices to their nets as if a god, since they have brought them food and live in plenty (Habakkuk 1:14-16). Would God allow for this to continue on unabated, allowing the Chaldeans to destroy nations and spare none, and be reinforced in their conviction that their gods have brought them power and success (Habakkuk 1:17)?

Habakkuk saw the violence and injustice all around him. We also see violence and injustice around us; how many times does it seem that the wicked prosper in their wickedness and justice is never delivered? The violent and aggressive get away with their behaviors and those who seek to pursue justice and righteousness fall behind or suffer harm. Habakkuk knew well to cry out to God in lament and complaint; do we pray to God regarding the wickedness and injustice we see all around us? Note well how only those who sighed and cried over the abominations done in Jerusalem were to be marked for preservation in Ezekiel 9:4; those who became hardened to such things were treated similarly to those who perpetuated them.

Habakkuk learned of God’s imminent judgment against Judah: they would be overrun by the Chaldeans. They would certainly suffer the consequences of the injustice and wickedness they had perpetrated. Yet what do we think of Habakkuk’s conundrum? How could the God of holiness and righteousness allow a wicked nation to destroy a comparatively more righteous one? We could imagine Ezekiel quibbling with Habakkuk’s assessment: he portrayed Jerusalem as more sinful than Sodom (Ezekiel 16:47-49)! Jeremiah might add that the Chaldeans at least proved more faithful to their gods and their religion than the Judahites did to theirs (cf. Jeremiah 2:10-13). Whatever we may think of comparing the relative righteousness or wickedness of Babylon and Judah, Habakkuk’s final concern is quite valid: would not the Chaldeans vaunt over Jerusalem and Judah and presume that their gods had given them victory, and YHWH would not save? Would they not continue to overrun nations? How could God establish His righteousness and justice against the wicked and unjust by granting strength and power to those even more wicked and unjust?

Habakkuk then took his post and waited for YHWH’s response to his complaint (Habakkuk 2:1). God would answer, but we do well to sit a moment with Habakkuk on that tower and grapple with his consternation, because there are times in which we find ourselves in Habakkuk’s position in Habakkuk 2:1. We see injustice and wickedness all around us, and the only way that injustice and wickedness seems to be overrun is by those who act even more unjustly and wickedly. Do we give voice to our laments and complaints before God? Do we really wish to see righteousness and justice in the land?

Habakkuk asked God if He was going to do anything about all the injustice in the land. God certainly heard his prayer and lament; God was going to do something about it. It was not exactly what Habakkuk had in mind. We do well to keep Habakkuk’s example in mind in terms of our own prayer life: what if God really does grant us what we want, but it does not look like anything we were expecting? Perhaps, in fact, God will give us that for which we ask, but He does so in ways very much against what we were expecting or wanting. Do we have the trust and confidence in God to accept the situation? Will we draw near to God in prayer even though we might get all for which we ask but not in the way we would like it? Or would that prospect cause us to shrink back and not bother asking at all? May we prove faithful to God like Habakkuk in his generation, willing to complain and lament regarding injustice and violence, even if God’s answer is not exactly as we would intend!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Resurrection of the Body | The Voice 11.01: January 03, 2021

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The Resurrection of the Body

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question” (Acts 23:6).

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the cornerstone of Christianity: Paul ties the legitimacy of the faith to the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12-20). Since Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians maintain the hope of the day when they also will be raised from the dead (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:21-58, Philippians 3:8-14, 20-21). Yet what is this “resurrection” all about?

In the New Testament, this question is not an issue: all involved understood that the resurrection involved the resurrection of the body from the dead. Whether the dead would be raised was one of the main disputations between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, seen in Matthew 22:23-32 and Acts 23:6-9. When Paul preached to the Athenians regarding the resurrection of Jesus, some of them mocked the idea (Acts 17:30-32): in many strands of Greek philosophy, the goal was for the soul to escape the body, and so the idea of resurrection proved quite repugnant. Elijah and Elisha raised the dead bodily through the power of God (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:18-37, Hebrews 11:35). Jesus did the same (Luke 7:10-17, 8:40-42, 49-56, John 11:1-45), as did Peter (Acts 9:36-42). When Jesus Himself arose from the dead, the tomb was empty, and He appeared to His disciples in bodily form (Matthew 28:1-17, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:25).

Yet it seems the idea of the resurrection of the body has become misunderstood over time. Some of the confusion comes from the heritage of Greek philosophy and its emphasis upon soul over body and their expectation of life after death in terms of the soul finding bliss in a disembodied state. Some of the confusion comes from over-applying spiritual understandings of resurrection, as with baptism as a spiritual death and resurrection in Romans 6:3-7, as well as the over-emphasis of the “spiritual” nature of the “spiritual” body in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. Yet it is the elevation of the expectation of heaven as the ultimate goal for the Christian, based on John 14:1-3, and how that expectation was enshrined in the hymns and popular devotions of many Christians, that has led to the under-emphasis on the resurrection and its importance in Christianity. As a result, the afterlife is understood in almost purely spiritual terms: the destruction of the physical realm leading to eternity in the spiritual realm in heaven. The resurrection from the dead is often re-defined to fit this particular concept of the afterlife: the resurrection becomes “life with God in heaven forever.” Yet is this what is taught in the New Testament?

In the Bible, as seen above, resurrection involves the raising of a dead body to life: the return of the soul/spirit to the physical body. The sons of the widows of Zarephath and Nain, the son of the Shunammite, Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus, and Dorcas/Tabitha had all died, their spirits/souls having departed from their physical bodies, and through the power of God, their spirits/souls returned to their bodies and they lived again. Granted, all these would again die.

Jesus’ resurrection is considered as the paradigm for the resurrection of believers: He is considered as the firstfruits, the firstborn of the dead, under the assumption that many others will follow on the final day (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). The Gospel accounts are in complete agreement: on the day of His crucifixion, Jesus died. His spirit/soul departed from His body. On the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead: His soul (and spirit?) was restored to His body, and He presented Himself to His disciples as having flesh and bones (cf. Luke 24:39), yet He could seemingly transcend the space-time continuum. The authors of the New Testament consider Jesus to have been raised from the dead in the body, yet the body was in a transformed, glorified form (cf. Philippians 3:21).

The New Testament makes important distinctions that we do well to consider. In the New Testament, the afterlife is not equated with the resurrection; therefore, the resurrection is not exactly “life after death.” Jesus, after all, was alive after He died: His soul did not perish on the cross, but went to Paradise (Luke 23:43-46). Paul understands that the sooner he would die, the sooner he would be with Christ, and how good that would be (Philippians 1:22-24), yet expects the resurrection to happen on the final day, the day of judgment, and recognizes that those “asleep” in Christ await the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). One can make a good argument based upon John 14:1-3, Philippians 1:22-24, and Revelation 6:9-11, 7:9-17, that the Christian’s soul/spirit goes to heaven immediately upon separation from the physical body: that would be life after death. Yet the New Testament has a further expectation: the day will then come when the dead will be raised (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Thus, the resurrection is truly life after life after death: the return of the soul (and spirit?) to the body, just as Jesus’ soul returned to His body.

But why a return to the body? We do well to remember that while the Bible testifies how mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and often speaks of sinfulness in terms of the desires of the flesh (cf. Romans 3:23, 8:1-11, Galatians 5:17-24), the Bible never suggests that the body is intrinsically evil. Quite the contrary: God made man and woman in His image, with body, soul, and spirit, and called that creation “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31). The Bible nowhere suggests that we would be in a better state if we were soul/spirit without a body; there is no Biblical conception of humanity as anything else but an organic unity among body and soul/spirit. As Paul explains in Romans 8:18-25, the problem with the body is the same problem that plagues the whole creation: God has subjected it to futility and decay, no doubt on account of the presence of sin and death in the world (cf. Genesis 3:1-23, Romans 5:12-18). While humans seem quite willing to give up on God’s creation, God and His creation itself prove less willing: as Paul continues to explain in Romans 8:18-25, the creation groans to be freed from its bondage to futility and decay, hoping to obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Little wonder, then, that John sees the end as the beginning in Revelation 22:1-6, with God’s people in the presence of God and Christ in the “new heavens and a new earth” with the river of life and the tree of life on its banks, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden from which we fell (cf. Genesis 2:1-3:22, Revelation 21:1). The New Testament, therefore, does not envision our ultimate end as disembodied bliss in heaven; it envisions a new heavens and earth, in which righteousness dwells, where humanity is restored to the position it once had before God.

Paul also sets up another contrast in Romans 8:18-25: the “now, not yet” nature of our salvation. In Romans 6:3-7, Paul speaks of baptism as being joined into Christ’s death and resurrection: a spiritual death and a spiritual resurrection. Thus Christians are alive spiritually before God in Christ, having obtained spiritual redemption through His blood, and through Christ can be considered as adopted sons (cf. Romans 8:1-16). And yet in Romans 8:23 he says Christians wait for adoption as sons, defined as the redemption of the body, and emphasizes in Romans 8:24-25 how this is our hope and therefore not yet manifest to us. A similar construct is seen in 1 Peter 1:3-9: Christians are now saved and guarded through faith, but they are guarded for a salvation ready to be revealed on the final day. We can understand these descriptions by understanding the differing natures of soul and body. When we speak of “spiritual” death, we do not mean actual death: we speak of such a death as a separation between the soul and its Creator, and do not mean that the soul has actually, substantively, perished and has ceased to exist. When we put our trust in Jesus and begin serving Him, we are reconciled to God through Him and His blood, and have the opportunity to maintain that spiritual relationship for eternity (cf. Romans 5:6-11, 1 John 1:1-7). Yet, even with that spiritual relationship, Christians die physically. Even with this spiritual relationship, there remains more that God has promised for Christians: not only are our souls redeemed, but God will redeem the body as well. We should be in a saved relationship with God right now, but we have not obtained the fullness of salvation just yet. The physical body, which is subject to actual, substantive death, must also gain victory over death in the end.

How this resurrection will take place, to the extent that we can presently understand it, is set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and Philippians 3:21. The translation of the terms which Paul uses has led to much confusion: he speaks of the “natural” body, and then the “spiritual” body, and then says how flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, and so many are led to conclude that the physical body must not be at all involved. Yet this is not what Paul is saying. “Natural” is the Greek psuchikos, and “spiritual” is the Greek pneumatikos. How these terms are used is made evident in 1 Corinthians 15:45. The first Adam, made from dust, “became a living soul” (soul is Greek psuche). The last Adam, Christ, is a life-giving spirit (spirit is Greek pneuma). Therefore, Paul is making a contrast between a “psychical” body, the body we now have, corruptible, perishable, and empowered/enlivened by the breath of life, or psuche, and the “pneumatical” body, the body in the resurrection, incorruptible, imperishable, and empowered/enlivened by our spirit or perhaps the Spirit, the pneuma. So how do we get from the “psychical” to the “pneumatical” body?

Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54: yes, flesh and blood does not inherit the Kingdom, but that does not mean that flesh and blood is not involved. Paul goes on to explain himself: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. This corruptible must “put on” incorruption; this mortal must put on immortality. When that happens, the saying will be true: death is swallowed up in victory.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul assures the Thessalonian Christians that the dead in Christ will rise, and “we who are alive” will also be caught up meet the Lord in the air. In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul speaks of our present citizenship, and thus affiliation, as in heaven, but from it we wait a Savior so that our body may receive the transformation toward conformity to the body of His glory.

Thus we can see the nature of the resurrection: the body is raised from the dead and is then transformed for immortality. Those who are alive when Christ returns will not experience death but will experience the same transformation. The dead are not raised in a transformed body: the dead are raised in their physical body, which is then transformed. Incorruption and immortality must be “put on” over this corruption and mortality; this is no doubt a figure, but it is a figure of transformation.

It is through the resurrection of the body that Christians obtain the victory over death. The soul does not die like the body dies; it is either connected to or separated from its Creator. If the goal of Christianity were simply a matter of spending eternity in heaven as disembodied souls, the resurrection would be entirely pointless: we could have that automatically after physical death, as Jesus also could have. Likewise, Greek philosophers would have entirely agreed with the Christian view of the afterlife; no one in Athens would mock Paul for suggesting that the afterlife featured disembodied bliss. Yet early Christians stubbornly insisted that Jesus was physically dead but made alive again and such is the hope for all who trust in Him.

Many good questions arise on account of the resurrection of the body. How could the body be raised if the body were deformed, cremated, or had decomposed significantly? The Bible does not directly address this question, but we are given an interesting example in Matthew 27:52-53: Matthew claims that after Jesus was raised from the dead, many of the bodies of the “saints” which had fallen asleep were raised, came out of their tombs, and appeared to many. This record of Matthew, preserved nowhere else, leads to more questions than answers. Who were they? How long were they alive? What happened to them afterwards? Nevertheless, Matthew does say the bodies of the saints came out of the tombs, and if those saints had been deceased for at least a year or more, there would have been nothing left of them but bones if even that much. We necessarily infer that God re-constituted their bodies so that they could come forth from the tombs in a form recognizable to people of the day. As God is able to make man from dust, He is able to re-make man from dust (cf. Genesis 2:7). Other details we would like to know are left entirely unaddressed.

What happened to Jesus in the resurrection? A common assumption is that after His ascension, Jesus returned to His pre-incarnate form. Yet the New Testament text does not justify such an assumption, and actively speaks against it. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul considers himself a witness to the Risen Lord, and makes no distinction between his witness to Jesus and the witness of those who saw Him between His resurrection and ascension. He witnessed the Risen Lord in Acts 9:3-7: yes, the text there only indicates that he saw a great light, but in 1 Corinthians 9:1 he claims to have seen “the Lord,” and thus we must conclude that Paul saw Jesus in His resurrection body. We also should note Paul’s language in Philippians 3:21: in the resurrection we will be transformed in order to be conformed to the glory of His body. Paul speaks of Jesus having that body in the present tense; therefore, the conclusion that makes the best sense of all the evidence is that Jesus has been in His resurrected body since the day of His resurrection. In this way Jesus remains both man and God even presently (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5).

Much, much more could be said about the resurrection of the body. It ought to remain the centerpiece of the hope of the Christian today just as it was for Paul (cf. Philippians 3:8-14). As Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, died on the cross, dwelt in Paradise, was raised from the dead and transformed, and remains for eternity in His resurrection body, so we can cherish the hope of the same. We live in the flesh, and unless the Lord returns quickly, will physically die. Our souls will return to God and dwell with Him until the final day upon which our bodies will be re-animated/re-constituted and transformed for eternity, ever to be in the presence of God in the new heavens and the new earth, having received the redemption of our souls and bodies as well as the creation itself, glorifying God in the form of His creation which He always intended for us to have and enjoy. Let us comfort one another with these words and wait patiently for our full redemption!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Kingdoms Become the Kingdom | The Voice 10.52: December 27, 2020

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The Kingdoms of the World to Become the Kingdom of Christ

What will become of the politics, nations, and kingdoms of this world?

Political philosophy and practice are invariably wrapped up in eschatology: what you deem will be shapes what can be imagined for today and informs the view of the present. For those who have no spiritual hope, politics has always been and always will be power games between those who have and those who want to have it. For those who have a “scorched earth” view of the future, a “scorched earth” politics of the present seems sensible. Those enamored with progress will seek to frame their desires and ideology in terms of establishing progress; those enamored with the heritage of the past will seek to frame their desires and ideology in terms of maintaining the legacy of the past.

The Christian should live in the present according to the hope of the future: we live as exiles and sojourners at the moment as we look forward to a city with foundations, the everlasting dominion and glory of God in Christ (cf. Romans 8:17-25, 1 Peter 2:11-17, Hebrews 11:1-12:2). But what exactly does that everlasting dominion and glory of God in Christ look like, and thus what is the end of the politics, nations, and kingdoms of this world?

John received vivid visions of the end of all things. In Revelation 11:15-18, upon hearing the seventh trumpet sounded, John heard the proclamation: the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. God was praised, for He had taken His great power and reigned. The nations had been angry, yet the wrath of God came, and judgment had been enacted to reward the prophets, the saints, and all who fear His name, and to destroy those who destroyed the earth. The events seen in Revelation 19:6-22:5 seem to present the same idea in different imagery: a summons to the marriage supper of the Lamb; the devastation of the armies of the world by the Lord of lords and King of kings; the casting of the beast, false prophet, and those who bore his mark into the lake of fire; the binding of Satan; the reign of Christ and His saints; the return of Satan and the day of judgment; the casting of Satan and those whose names were not in the book of life into the lake of fire; the portrayal of the people of God as heavenly Jerusalem coming down from the “new heavens” to the “new earth,” bearing the glory of God; the people of God dwelling in the presence of God in Christ forever; the river of life and the tree of life, and the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations; the light of God in Christ for the people of God forever.

How John’s visions ought to be understood remain some of the most contentious matters in the Christian faith. Many make much of Jesus’ millennial reign. Some have created the dispensational premillennialist scheme and a story of great mayhem and violence leading to the end; yet it remains hard to reconcile such a scheme with the rest of what the New Testament reveals about Jesus, His Kingdom, and His return. Others have imagined their efforts will bring the millennial reign of Jesus to fruition, whether the progressive fantasy of previous generations or the last to endure from the wreckage of modernity now prevalent among Christian Dominionists/Reconstructionists. Others focus on portrayals of devastation of the end, presuming God will completely destroy everything in the creation, and thus do not believe they have much responsibility to steward and preserve what will be destroyed soon anyway. Many do well to recognize how John speaks in visions and thus metaphors, yet then discount the metaphors as having no substantive meaning on which we can depend, relegating the whole book to the realm of speculation.

We do well to integrate both what we find in Revelation and our view of politics, nations, and kingdoms with what is told in the rest of the Scriptures. According to the Scriptures, God made a good creation which was subjected to corruption and decay by sin and death (Genesis 1:31, Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-23). Human governments, and the powers and principalities above them, are empowered by God, have a commission to uphold justice and condemn evil, yet all invariably are corrupted and submit to darkness (Romans 13:1-8, Ephesians 6:12). In His death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers and principalities, and was declared the Son of God in power; in His ascension He was given an eternal dominion and was made Lord and Christ over all (Romans 1:4, Ephesians 1:20-23, Colossians 1:15-20, 2:15). Jesus reigns as Lord, and all are called to submit to His rule and embody the values of His Kingdom in His body, the church (Ephesians 1:20-23, 4:11-16). On the day of judgment Jesus will return, and all will rise from the dead: those who have not known God and obeyed the Gospel of Jesus to a resurrection of condemnation, and those who are in Christ to the resurrection of life, in which death is defeated and is no more, the people of God remain in the presence of God forever, having been given the glory of God (John 5:28-29, Romans 2:5-11, 8:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

We can understand the story of Revelation in terms of this story set forth in Scripture. As it is written, the kingdoms of the world will become the Kingdom of God and of His Christ: Jesus’ rule will triumph over sin and death, and the powers present over this world will submit to God fully (cf. Revelation 11:15). Such does not demand the elimination of the nations, but their redemption: the redeemed of all the nations will endure, and the tree of life has leaves to heal them (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 22:1-5). Sufficient references are made to the saints ruling over the nations to demand credibility, even if we do not understand what that rule will look like (cf. Revelation 2:26-27, 3:21, 20:4; cf. Luke 22:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:3-4). God has not given up on His creation; it will be redeemed, even if by fire (Romans 8:17-23, 2 Peter 3:8-13, Revelation 21:1).

The kingdoms of this world will come and go; the hope of the nations to endure is through the Kingdom of God in Christ. Our politics, as with everything else, must be part of our story as Christians. We are called to embody what the reign of Christ looks like: thus we pray and work diligently to do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. We ought to seek the welfare of those around us, not capitulating to the defeat of futility, but doing good to all people, especially to those of the household of faith, and advocate with the powers that be in order to better embody justice and righteousness. Our posture will be of resistance, seeking to stand firm against the powers and principalities of this present darkness through the strength which God supplies in Jesus; we will not find in any polity the full embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and it is not for us to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. God Himself will return in Christ to establish that reign in the resurrection; it is enough for us to wait for it, hasten it through prayer and the practice of righteousness, and to orient our political philosophy and practice to this end. May we all live in ways which glorify God in Christ that we would receive His glory on the final day, and share in the rule and dominion of Christ for all eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Joy | The Voice 10.51: December 20, 2020

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Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

The Apostle Paul, having warned the Galatian Christians regarding the dangers of falling from grace by adhering to the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:1-5:16), sought to exhort them regarding sin and righteousness (Galatians 5:17-24). He denounced the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21); he now encouraged them to embody the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-24:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

The first manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit can be well described as the ultimate embodiment of all of them: love. Paul then continued with “joy.” The word translated above as “joy” is the Greek word chara, defined by Thayer’s as, “joy, gladness: the joy received from you; the cause or occasion of joy; of persons who are one’s joy.”

In the New Testament “joy” is found in all of the above dimensions. The emotional experience of joy at hearing the Word of God and finding salvation in its message is in view in Matthew 13:20, 44. Christians are commended for proving willing to suffer while experiencing joy in 2 Corinthians 8:2, Philippians 1:25, and Hebrews 10:34. Paul expressed a joyful disposition toward those faithful to God in the churches in 2 Corinthians 2:3, Philippians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, and 2 Timothy 1:4.

Christians, therefore, are a people who ought to be marked by joy. Christians have many reasons to rejoice. We live in hope: our Lord has redeemed us from the world of sin and death, and we look forward to eternal life in glory in the resurrection (Romans 8:1-39). We live with the encouragement of the people of God who have gone on before us, and presently share the company of brethren of like-minded faith (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Hebrews 10:24-25, 11:39-12:2). If we pursue the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, we always will have what we need (Matthew 6:25-34). In Christ we enjoy freedom from the bondage and oppression of sin so as to share in relational unity with God and to glorify Him in faithful love and obedience (Romans 6:14-23); Christians do well to consider this as joy and to abide within it.

Joy, therefore, must be a hallmark of the faith. According to Paul the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Paul urged Christians to rejoice always, repeating himself for emphasis in Philippians 4:4; he exhorted the Thessalonian Christians to the same end in 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

Yet this insistence on rejoicing “always” ought to give us pause. How many of us associate “joy” with a feeling of happiness? Is Paul really expecting Christians to always feel joyful and happy? Are we to imagine that Paul himself experienced warm feelings of joy and happiness while being beaten, stoned, or in desperate want?

We may enjoy the feeling of joy and happiness, but the Christian’s joy is not rooted in feelings. Feelings come and go; the goal in Christ is not to manufacture emotions to maintain the pretense of joyful excitement no matter what. Joy grounded and rooted in emotion and feeling cannot endure the trials and difficulties experienced in the life of faith.

The Hebrews author and James help us to understand the kind of joy Christians must maintain in the faith. The Hebrews author exhorted Christians to look toward Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, for He endured the cross, and despised its shame, on account of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). James exhorted Christians to consider it a joyful thing to endure trials, since those trials would test their faith and produce endurance (James 1:2-4). Neither the Hebrews author nor James suggested the difficulties, trials, or shame themselves were sources of joy or joyful experiences; instead they focused on the joy which could be found in the outcome: developed character traits, growth in relationship with God and His people, victory over sin and death and eternal life.

The Christian’s joy, therefore, is not grounded and rooted in emotion, feeling, or physical circumstance, but in what they are obtaining and will obtain in Christ. Such is how Christians endured the loss of property or standing “with joy”: they did not feel warmth and happiness from the indignity and shame they endured, but understood that they were sharing in the suffering of Christ so they would obtain the glory God had given Him (cf. Romans 8:17-18, Hebrews 10:32-35). Their suffering was unpleasant (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11); the fruit of their suffering could sustain them in joy.

In truth, everyone has a source of joy: they seek after something which they believe will make them glad and happy. Those in the world look for joy in the world: far too many in money, power, fame, sex, or drugs; yet just as many, if not more so, look for joy in good things elevated beyond their station, like their nation, family, entertainment, sports teams, etc. It is not wrong for Christians to find some happiness and joy in family, their work, their nation, sports, hobbies, etc., but such can never be the sources of their ultimate joy. Christians must be glad in God in Christ through the Spirit; their joy must be the relationship they are cultivating with God, and they must prove willing to renounce all other joys if need be in order to obtain eternal life and glory in the resurrection (cf. Matthew 6:19-24, 10:34-38, 16:24-28). Do we see ourselves in the merchant who found the pearl of great price; have we “sold” all we have in order to obtain the joy of life in God in Christ (Matthew 13:45-46)?

Joy is a beautiful thing and can sustain us in our lives. Yet joy is not a masquerade of positivity for the sake of enhancing quality of life; rooting and grounding one’s joy in anything in this world will lead to grief, pain, and distress. Christians find joy in their relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit, finding strength to endure all difficulties while maintaining composure and dignity because in Christ we know we hold lightly to everything that pertains to this life. That which causes us distress in the world renders the hope we cherish and sustain all the more sweeter, and prepares us more thoroughly to enjoy it. Joy and gladness in things of this world fade; rejoicing in the Lord Jesus endures forever.

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Eager to Remember the Poor | The Voice 10.50: December 13, 2020

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Eager to Remember the Poor

We now approach the time of year when people begin to think about one another and give gifts and enjoy good cheer. While many times we think of providing gifts for those who are family and friends, brethren, and even perhaps business associates or such like, do we consider giving to those who are in need? Do we seek to follow God’s charge to provide for the poor and downtrodden?

Throughout His dealing with mankind, God has always sought to make sure that His people took care of those in need. We read in Deuteronomy 15:7-8 how God desired Israel to take care of the poor:

If there be with thee a poor man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates in thy land which YHWH thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth.

Israel, however, many times was faithless in following the command, and we can read how God through the prophets condemned them for it:

The poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst; I, YHWH, will answer them, I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them (Isaiah 41:17).

The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery; yea, they have vexed the poor and needy, and have oppressed the sojourner wrongfully (Ezekiel 22:29).

Forasmuch therefore as ye trample upon the poor, and take exactions from him of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink the wine thereof (Amos 5:11).

It is clearly manifest that God’s concern for the poor was very great, and maltreatment of the poor was a constant grievance of God against Israel.

While we live under the new covenant between God and all mankind through the blood of Jesus Christ, concern for the poor is no less important. Consider the following:

And he said to him also that had bidden him,
“When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not wherewith to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).

So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith (Galatians 6:10).

Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).

Furthermore, consider Jesus’ presentation of the Judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46:

“But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand,
‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’
And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.’
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.’
Then shall they also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?’
Then shall he answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.’
And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life.”

Why would Jesus speak as if how we treated the least of those among us defines how we are judged? Granted, if we help our fellow man but do not obey God otherwise, we will not stand well in judgment (Matthew 12:36-37, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:6-10). And yet 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 1 John 3:16-18: love must undergird all we think, say, and do, and if we say we love one another but do not give the world’s goods to those in need, our love is only in pretense, not truth. If we see Jesus in the least of those among us, we are most likely doing well in glorifying God; yet if we do not see Jesus in the least of those among us, our heart is most likely condemning us in our selfishness, fear, and insecurity. We do well to consider Luke 12:13-48 in terms of the connections among covetousness, hoarding of wealth, and impending judgment.

God loves those who cheerfully give to help others. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 regarding Christians giving to help the needy of Judea, but surely the principle applies to all giving done by Christians:

But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written,
“He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever.”
And he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God.

As we have been blessed greatly by God, so it should be a little thing for us to help those in need, both within and without the fold. We can trust His promise: if we give bountifully, we shall be bountifully blessed, spiritually if not physically; likewise, if we give sparingly, we should not expect to gain much of anything.

Our giving helps us to reflect the light of Christ in our lives. Matthew 5:13-16 illustrates how we are to be distinctive and a light to the world: going out and seeking to help those in need allows us to do so. We live in a society that is focused on “me”: what I want, what I need, what I want to do, etc. Focusing on the need of others is distinctive, and if we go out and help those who are in need, not for our own good but for their good, that will be noticed. Your work will never be in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58), and perhaps your Christ-like example may lead some to the truth.

We recognize that the Scriptures indicate that providing for the poor among the world is the responsibility of the individual, not of the church (1 Timothy 5:16). It is right for us to make this distinction and that the church should not be burdened with assisting those who are not of the fold. On the other hand, we must make sure that we remember that helping the poor is an essential part of Christianity, and while it may not be the church’s responsibility, it does remain the responsibility of the individual! It is a great travesty if the poor are left wholly unsupported by those who recognize the distinction between the individual and the church in the Scriptures. It is best to help the poor as individuals precisely because it gives us the opportunity to touch individual lives with Christ’s love on a fully interactive basis: to not help the poor either as an individual or as a church is to fall prey to the same attitudes that led to the condemnation of Israel. No one wants that fate!

Instead, brethren, let us share Paul’s attitude in Galatians 2:10:

Only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do.

Paul was zealous, or eager, to remember the poor. Do we share that enthusiasm? Do we seek out to help those in need, to take that opportunity to show the light of Christ and to touch lives with the Gospel lived? Are we truly cheerful givers? Or are we just like the rest of the world and consider our own needs more important than those of others, in direct contradiction to God’s will (Romans 15:2, 1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:3)?

Let us consider God’s message in the Scriptures and change our attitudes so that we may be eager to help the poor at all times.

Ethan R. Longhenry

What Is the Gospel? | The Voice 10.49: December 06, 2020

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What Is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the good news of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Gospel is described as the euangelion, the “good news” (e.g. Mark 1:1). The gospel is news: the heralding of what God has accomplished through Jesus the Christ. News can have a dramatic effect on our lives: consider how you strongly hold on to memories of when you were informed about news regarding major events in your own life, in the lives of those you love, or of national or international significance: getting accepted or rejected by a college or a job; receiving news of illness or death; the acceptance of a marriage proposal; the death of a leader, or a major incident in a nation’s history. News can transform our lives.

Yet the power of news is not in the expression of the information, but in the reflection of reality in that information. The Gospel can only be “good news” if what it says actually happened. The good news is that God really did take on flesh and dwell among us as Jesus of Nazareth; He died, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day; He later ascended and received an everlasting Kingdom from His Father; He will return again soon. If any of these things did not actually happen, or will not happen, then the “good news” is fake, a lie, we bear false witness regarding God, are lost in our sins, and are of all people most pitiable (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

For good reason we consider the recounting of Jesus’ life and ministry the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born of a virgin as the Emmanuel child, the Son of God, God in the flesh, a powerful miracle that facilitated later miracles. He grew up as a Second Temple Palestinian Jewish man and ministered in Galilee in humble circumstances. He went about doing good and teaching regarding the Kingdom of God. He explained all things more thoroughly to twelve disciples He selected, men of little social standing but chosen to bear witness to what God accomplished in Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6): in His life He satisfied the Law completely, embodied the story of Israel, and fulfilled all what was written regarding the Messiah in the Law and the Prophets. By His life as recorded in the four Gospels we can know and understand how we should live.

Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples, tried, tortured, and crucified as a political insurrectionist. The Romans thought they made an example of Him, and yet His death had been foreordained as the means by which God would rescue humanity from their sins. Jesus offered Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind; the forces of evil subjected Jesus to a wide range of their devices, inflicting mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma upon Him in humiliation, degradation, pain, and suffering, and He overcame it all by enduring it to the point of death, and all without responding in kind. Jesus gave His life so that we might live; yet Jesus’ death is very much a part of His life, and thus part of the way He pioneered that we might have standing and life before His Father. The only way to the Father is the way of the cross: suffering, loss, humiliation, and pain, perhaps even to death.

If that were the end of Jesus’ story it would have been a great tragedy but of little further significance; He was not the first “Messiah” the Romans had crucified, nor would He be the last. Jesus’ life and death can only be “good news” because His disciples bore witness that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection represented the core transformative “news” of the Gospel as the Apostles proclaimed it: it was Jesus’ resurrection that changed everything. Jesus had humbled Himself; His Father had exalted Him. He was raised to die no longer: He endures in His resurrection body to this very day. Jesus overcame death; death did not have the final word. Jesus’ resurrection was the word that turned the world upside down; Jesus’ resurrection made void the power of the tyrant, for those who trusted they would receive a resurrection in Jesus would not shrink back from the threat of death. Jesus’ resurrection assures us there is life after life after death; God has not given up on His creation, and in Jesus we can overcome sin and death.

Forty days after Jesus arose from the dead He ascended to the Father. It was necessary for Jesus to ascend into the heavens in order to cleanse and provide a way for us to stand before the Father; He was established as priest forever, continually interceding for His people before His Father. In His ascension Jesus as the Son of Man received eternal dominion, a Kingdom which would never be shaken and the name that is above every other name: Jesus now reigns as Lord of lords and King of kings. Jesus empowered the disciples who saw Him in life and in the resurrection with power to establish the governance and maintenance of the ways of His Kingdom. These disciples, now known as Apostles, went about proclaiming what God had done in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and imminent return, declared He was the Christ, the King, the Son of God, and set forth how Christians ought to live so as to glorify God in Christ. When people accept this good news about Jesus, they ought to submit to Him in trusting faith; when they do so, they can be made a part of the body of Christ, also known as the church, and serve Jesus in His Kingdom. Christians are to jointly participate in life with one another as they do with God in Christ, and all they do ought to be patterned according to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in hope that if we share in Jesus’ sufferings, we might share in His resurrection.

God has accomplished great things in Jesus, but His purposes in Christ have not reached their ultimate fulfillment. The final enemy, death, has not been fully defeated; we still suffer the effects of the curse and the decay and corruption of the creation. Jesus solemnly promised that He would return one day to judge the living and the dead on the day of resurrection: all would come out of the tombs, the faithful to a resurrection of life, glorified by God, sharing in life in the presence of God in the “new heavens” and the “new earth,” and the disobedient to a resurrection of condemnation, suffering in the lake of fire with the Evil One and his angels for eternity. God has displayed covenant loyalty in Jesus; if we believe in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and lordship, then we must maintain confidence He will return soon. We will never know exactly when; such is why we must always be prepared for the Lord’s return, so that whether we live or die we will always be with the Lord.

Thus the Gospel is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return, as we have heard from the Apostles who saw and experienced Him, and bore witness in the pages of the New Testament. This is the foundation of the faith delivered once for all the saints (cf. Jude 1:3); we cannot add to it or take away from it, for who among us saw Jesus in His life or in His resurrection? All that is true in the faith derives somehow from Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return; any message that would not root itself in this good news of Jesus, or would contravene it in part or in whole, is not the Gospel, but a fraud and imitation, warped and corrupted, the doctrine of demons. We do well to root and ground ourselves in the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return; we ought to proclaim this good news to others, embody this good news in our thoughts, words, and deeds, and always be prepared for Jesus to return and to share in the resurrection of life. May we affirm the Gospel of Jesus Christ, accept no substitutes, and share in life in God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Persia | The Voice 10.48: November 29, 2020

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Persia

The Iranian plateau seems a world away from the lush valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers: it is a more difficult land, akin to the great steppes to its north and northeast. For years its inhabitants were kept in check by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Elamites, but that would all begin to change in the seventh century BCE. Ancient kingdoms and empires would fall; the new power in the land arose in Persia.

While “Persia” would eventually become the term used to describe the whole of the Iranian plateau and the modern-day nation of Iran, it originally described the territory now known as Fars in southwest Iran, an arid steppe area along the Zagros Mountains. That area was named Persia after the tribe of Persians, an Iranian people who likely came from north of the Caucasus Mountains and moved into that area around 1000 BCE.

Most of the land of modern day Iran was made part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire until the Iranian tribes quietly ceased paying tribute around 625 BCE. Cyaxares, king of the Median Iranian tribes, asserted himself, entered into a coalition with Nabopolassar king of Babylon, and conquered the Assyrians. By the end of the seventh century BCE the Medes had overcome Urartu to the north of Assyria, parts of modern day Turkey and Armenia, northeast into central Asia, and the entire Iranian plateau, including the Persians.

Cyaxares’ son Astyages succeeded him as king of the Medes; in 553 BCE Astyages’ maternal grandson, Cyrus king of Persia, led an insurrection against him and defeated him in 550. Having conquered the Medes and its empire, Cyrus defeated Croesus king of Lydia and conquered the Lydian Empire in 546, extending Persian rule over most of modern-day Turkey. Cyrus is best known for conquering Babylon and thus the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 (cf. Daniel 5:1-31). Isaiah foretold Cyrus’ rise and considered him anointed of YHWH (cf. Isaiah 44:28, 45:1); Cyrus obtained the goodwill of the subjects of his new empire by encouraging them to return to their homelands and serve their gods as attested by the Cyrus Cylinder found at Babylon as well as the Scriptures in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-8, 5:13-14. Cyrus’ son Cambyses is not attested in the Scriptures but is famous for conquering Egypt in 525 BCE, bringing to fruition what was prophesied of Egypt in Ezekiel 29:1-32:32. Thus the Achaemenid Persian Empire had been established, stretching from the Mediterranean and Egypt to the steppes of Central Asia.

A dynastic crisis took place after Cambyses’ death; ultimately, Cambyses’ personal lance bearer, Darius, would ascend to the throne and would be recognized as the next Achaemenid Persian king (521-486 BCE). The Judahites completed the Second Temple in the days of Darius (ca. 516; cf. Ezra 5:1-6:18); it was also in Darius’ day that Persian forces first attacked the land of Greece and were defeated at the Battle of Marathon in 490. Darius nevertheless extended the borders of the Persian Empire to their greatest expanse, including Thrace in Europe, to the Indus River in the east, and into Libya and the Sudan in Africa. Darius efficiently organized the empire, dividing its territories into provinces which were to be overseen by appointed leaders called satraps; he established Aramaic as the language of governance in the empire, as had been the case under the Assyrians and Babylonians, established standardized weights and measures, and developed better roads. All of these improvements led to greater unity within the empire.

Darius’ son Xerxes reigned from 486-465 BCE and is the King Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. He attempted to avenge his father’s defeat at the hand of the Greeks, defeating them at Thermopylae and burning Athens to the ground in 480. His Phoenician navy was defeated by the Athenians at Salamis and his army was defeated at Plataea and Mycale the next year. The military campaign was thus a disaster for the Persians, leading to the loss of Macedonia and the Greek cities of Asia Minor. The Greek historian Herodotus provided the chronicle of all the events described above according to the Greek perspective and the stories he was told in his extensive travels throughout the Mediterranean world in the middle of the fifth century BCE.

Xerxes was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes (465-424 BCE). Nehemiah served Araxerxes as cupbearer and would be allowed to return to Jerusalem to re-establish its fortifications (Nehemiah 1:1-13:31); Artaxerxes commissioned Ezra to return from Babylon to Jerusalem to establish the Law of Moses there (cf. Ezra 6:1-10:44). Artaxerxes is the last Persian king mentioned by name in the Old Testament, and it is likely during his reign that the prophets fell silent.

After Artaxerxes’ death a period of dynastic crisis prevailed until Artaxerxes II, a grandson of Artaxerxes I, ascended to the throne. He would maintain the longest reign of all Achaemenid Persian emperors, from 404 until 358 BCE. And yet the empire was struggling: Artaxerxes II was not able to quell a revolt in Egypt, suffered a revolt from his satraps, and was constantly fighting with the Greeks. He was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes III (358-338); he overcame some military defeats and revolts and finally eliminated native rule from Egypt until the modern era. Artaxerxes III’s son Artaxerxes IV was poisoned soon after ascending to the throne, and his nephew Darius III became the last Achaemenid Persian king. In 334 BCE Alexander II of Macedon invaded the Persian Empire and inflicted significant defeats upon the Persians at Granicus (334), Issus (333), and finally at Gaugamela (331). Darius III died ignominiously and his murderer was put on trial and executed by Alexander. After Alexander’s untimely death in 332 BCE his empire was divided among his four generals; the Persian Empire was thus divided among the Ptolemies and Seleucids.

The Iranian plateau would fall under the rule of another steppe people, the Parthians, from 247 BCE until 224 CE, when they were conquered by another Persian dynasty, the Sassanids, who would maintain their rule until the Muslim invasions of 637.

The Achaemenid Persians oversaw a significant transformation in the ancient Near East; they were the first to subject the entire ancient Near East under the rule of one leader, and its empire was one of the most stable and longest lived. The Hebrew Bible strongly condemned the Assyrians and Babylonians and foretold disaster and distress at the hands of the Greeks and Romans; and yet the prophets, Ezra, and Nehemiah have nothing but positive things to say about the Persians. The dangers faced by Israel in the days of the Persians are attributed to their enemies: the leaders of the Samaritans and others in Ezra, Haman in Esther. The Persian Empire thus gave Israel a chance to return to its land and begin to work to restore their fortunes there, and thus they are remembered well.

The Achaemenid Persians had built upon the infrastructure they received from the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Medes. Their inability to defeat the Greeks would ultimately become their undoing, and their time under the sun came to an end after three hundred years. And yet what the Achaemenid Persians built persevered: Alexander and his successors largely left the Persian infrastructure of empire in place, and for many among the Persians the events of the late fourth century BCE remain very much alive, as if they happened only yesterday. The Achaemenid Persians fulfilled an important purpose in the plan of God; they have passed on, but the word of God endures. May we prove faithful to God’s word and purposes and glorify God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Political Libertarianism | The Voice 10.47: November 22, 2020

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Political Libertarianism

It is said that the two subjects to avoid in polite conversation are religion and politics. Furthermore, within Christianity, there is often an understandable desire to transcend the politics of the day. Politics, by the very nature of the craft, involves compromise and gets very dirty in deal making; furthermore, no political platform fully embodies God’s purposes in Christ, and politicians invariably fall short of upholding what God would have upheld in Christ in every respect. At the same time, Christians in America will invariably be called upon to engage with all sorts of ideas, philosophies, plans, and policies prevalent in American political discourse as members of this representative republic; thus, however Christians engage with politics, they ought to do so in ways which bring the lordship of Jesus to bear, and Jesus ought to be glorified and manifest in how they speak of politics and politicians (Ephesians 4:29, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 3:17). We do well to consider the broad trends in political discourse and how they relate to what God has made known in Jesus.

The vast majority of modern American political discourse takes place within the general confines of philosophical liberalism: a commitment to free speech, freedom of individuals, the fundamental equality of everyone, a commitment to the rule of law, free markets and free trade, freedom of religion, and a primarily secular posture from the government. Within this commitment to philosophical liberalism we presently see three major political postures: progressivism, conservatism, and libertarianism.

Political libertarianism remains perhaps the “purest” distillation of philosophical liberalism: its name comes from terms for “freedom,” and libertarianism in general seeks to maximize the freedom and autonomy of the individual. In political libertarianism everything centers on personal autonomy: the individual is seen as the basic element of society and should therefore enjoy the right of the individual to enjoy life, liberty, and property without interference from the government. While there is a strain of anarchic libertarianism that would advocate a form of libertinism, most political libertarians uphold the importance of the rule of law and understand the primary purpose of government to establish the rule of law and protect the rights of its citizens from internal and external aggression. Political libertarians often believe the order found in society developed from below, not imposed from above; they believe in the dignity and integrity of the individual but do not trust the government to impose such values upon a population. Political libertarians generally uphold social freedoms, highly privileging freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to engage in countercultural relationships or personally ruinous behaviors (as long as such do not interfere with the freedoms or property of others) without governmental interference: to this end not a few political libertarians would like the government to get out of people’s bedrooms and favor legalization of drugs, gambling, and sex work. Libertarianism manifests divergent postures in economic matters: the more “right wing” form of libertarianism believes strongly in free markets and condemns any governmental regulation of economic markets; a more “left-wing” form of libertarianism condemns the current capitalist system and conception of private property and would advocate for more of a collectivist or mutualist economy based upon sharing the benefits of the earth’s resources. Political libertarianism is generally cast as socially liberal but fiscally conservative; whereas the Libertarian Party has not proven very successful as a force in American politics, libertarianism itself has profoundly influenced both major political parties over the past fifty years as individualism has proven ascendant and the value of community and institutions has faded.

There is much to commend in political libertarianism for the people of God. A high valuation of the individual and his or her conscience is very much a part of the Christian tradition, displayed in Romans 14:12-23. Christians benefit when the nation-state does not interfere in matters of personal conviction and conscience and in matters of religion (1 Timothy 2:1-3); Christians should always remember the lessons of history as it relates to the desire to use the coercive force of the nation-state to advance the purposes of a particular religion or sect. Christians can certainly work and associate and thrive under a libertarian system of governance and economy, working diligently to make their own living quietly while seeking to advance the Kingdom of Jesus (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15). Political libertarianism also does well to remind all of us that more government is not always the best answer to the challenges and difficulties which might beset a society, culture, or nation-state: expecting change primarily based on legislation and the coercive force of the nation-state is folly.

Yet we do well to recognize the dangers and difficulties which can arise from political libertarianism. Political libertarianism may be the most pure distillation of classical liberalism in the modern political realm, yet for Christians classical liberalism is not an unalloyed good. A focus on the individual and freedom can have many benefits, yet one can all too easily make an idol of either or both: we are made as distinct individuals, beloved by God in Christ, but are called upon to seek relational unity with our fellow humans and what builds them up (Ephesians 2:11-3:12, Philippians 2:1-11). Likewise, we are to appreciate our freedom as Christians, but not as a cloak for wickedness, but to serve God in Christ (Romans 6:14-23, 1 Peter 2:16-17). One man’s “freedom” might well lead to the oppression of another; for many, Kris Kristofferson’s words resonate: “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Christians should consider irresponsible the rhetoric of political libertarianism regarding taxation as theft; taxes have almost always been used for corrupt purposes and lining the pockets of those who obtain them, and yet Paul still expected Christians to pay taxes without grumbling (Romans 13:1-7). Christians must be aware of the power and influence of the powers, principalities, and other cosmic forces in the heavenly places (cf. Ephesians 6:12): it is foolish to believe that developments in society are only based on individuals and individual decisions and to reject the existence of systemic influences and forces, and we do well to confess that Enlightenment thinkers went too far in their rejection of supernatural and superhuman forces. Political libertarians should be careful in how thoroughly they demonize the government: yes, governments are fallen, led by humans corrupted by sin, and in various ways enslaved to the Evil One and his forces (e.g. Revelation 13:1-18), and yet government is also instituted by God, and human authorities are empowered by God for His purposes (cf. Romans 13:1-7).

As with all political philosophies in America, political libertarianism must come to grips with how it required the coercive force of the federal government to break the power of white supremacist Jim Crow legislation and other discriminatory policies, and how a consistent political libertarianism did not and could not suffice to break the power of prejudice and racism against Black people in America. To this end it should not be surprising that political libertarianism is most popular among those for whom the system has been designed to bring advantage and less popular among those against whom the system has continually discriminated. Political libertarians would also do well to maintain the same kind of skepticism they manifest toward government toward those who marshal great power and authority in our capitalist system: to believe that the free market has never failed people, but people have failed the free market is its own kind of fundamentalist religion, and corporations and similar economic forces leverage their power and influence to benefit themselves to the economic disadvantage of others, and often requires an equally potent authority to regulate them: the government. Government is designed to reward the good and punish the evil indeed (cf. Romans 13:1-7); yet it also is called upon to level the playing field, to give justice to the widow and orphan, and to guard against the rich and wealthy leveraging the government or other forms of authority to grind the face of the poor (e.g. Isaiah 1:10-17).

Political libertarianism has its place in modern American politics to remind the state and its citizens that government is not always the answer and to make a principled stand for the freedom of citizens to make their own decisions before God and one another. Yet government is not always the problem; as society becomes ever more atomized and individualistic and as libertarianism in personal philosophy reigns ascendant, we must all the more dedicate ourselves as Christians to serving one another and pursuing the common good as the welfare of the city. May we all seek to glorify God in Christ with the freedoms we enjoy, and serve one another and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Love | The Voice 10.46: November 15, 2020

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The Voice

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

The Apostle Paul, having established his great concern regarding the Galatian Christians turning to the rites of the Law, then desired to encourage them to avoid sin and accomplish righteousness. He did so by condemning the “works of the flesh” and affirming the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17-24). The manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit are enumerated in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

Paul did not just begin with love: in the construction of the sentence in Greek, one could say that the fruit of the Spirit is love, and the rest of the attributes serve as commentary. In English “love” is a general and elastic term, describing everything from erotic desire to deep affection. The Greek word translated here as “love” is the Greek word agape, a love and affection manifest in sacrificial service, seeking the best interest and welfare of the beloved without regard to one’s own interests.

The New Testament testifies abundantly regarding agape love. It is the love God has for the world in John 3:16; it is the love demonstrated by Jesus in His death, and thus the model for the love we ought to share among one another (1 John 3:16, 4:7-21). Love represents the ultimate demonstration of virtue: without it there cannot be any true faith, holiness, or righteousness. Love must energize and enervate all thought, feeling, and action if it would glorify God, for God is love, and His love is fully manifest in Jesus (1 John 4:7-21). No wonder, then, that Jesus gave His great, solemn command to His disciples: to love one another as He loved them (John 13:34). Nothing else is as essential: Christians can only be truly known as Jesus’ disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). Few passages, however, more thoroughly define agape love than 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth.

Paul centers everything about the Christian life in love. Whatever is not done in love is worthless. Love is manifest according to defined characteristics, and we see those characteristics most perfectly embodied in Jesus. If we replaced “love” with “Jesus” in 1 Corinthians 13:4, the passage still “works.” But will the passage “work” if we substitute “love” with “us”? Do we suffer long? Are we kind? Do we not envy, and do we not vaunt ourselves? Are we puffed up, or do we behave unseemly? Do we seek our own? Are we easily provoked? Do we take evil into account? Do we rejoice in the truth and not unrighteousness? Do we bear, believe, hope, and endure all things? We can certainly see where we fall short. Hopefully, as we grow in faith, we better and more consistently exemplify love according to these characteristics.

In society love is reckoned as a feeling; yet the love God has called us to display in Jesus is truly a decision. The decision to love is not based on worthiness or merit but anchored in God’s love for us in Jesus. For good reason Paul prayed for God to strengthen Christians in the Spirit to better perceive the dimensions of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14-19): we will never plumb the depths of that love fully, but the more we recognize its great expanse, the more it overwhelms us, and the more empowered we are to display love in every circumstance. In truth the kind of love we ought to display can only be empowered in Jesus. We might have some kind of benevolent affection for others sustained by a sense of camaraderie or passion, but such humanitarian based love will always have its limitations. It is only when we anchor and root ourselves in the love of God that we can love others as God has loved us: to love the undeserving, the alienated, the sinful, the hostile (Romans 5:6-11). To love one’s enemies and to bless those who persecute you will always prove countercultural; it can only make sense and work in Jesus who lived and died to reconcile sinful and hostile humanity to God (cf. Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6:30-36). Love demands action: we cannot truly say we love God or our fellow man if our deeds do not display that love. We are to be those who love in deed and truth, not merely in word and pretense (1 John 3:16-18).

Jesus rightly distilled all the Law and the prophets into two commands: to love God with all one’s being, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:35-40). We are called to draw near to God in Christ to share in relational unity with God as He shares within Himself (John 17:20-23, Hebrews 10:22): love defines this relational bond. As we are transformed by drawing near to God, we are able to grow in relational unity with our fellow man in Christ (1 John 1:7): thus we are empowered to love one another as Jesus has loved us (1 John 3:16-18, 4:7-21). Every relationship we have ought to be informed by the love of God in Christ: we approach God in love; we encourage one another as God’s people in love; husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33); parents and children ought to relate to one another in love; we should express this love to our friends and associates; we should love even those who stand against us and would harm us, for God loved us when we were working against His purposes.

Love is a gift: we only can love because we have been loved, and God empowers us to love others as He has loved us. Love makes life worth living, but proves very costly. We do well to surrender ourselves to the love of God in Christ and love as God has loved us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Living With the Unanswered Question | The Voice 10.45: November 08, 2020

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The Voice

Living With the Unanswered Question

Lamentations is one of those books that is easily forgotten. In our Bibles it comes between Jeremiah and Ezekiel mostly because it was believed that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. The book is full of distressing and painful imagery; perhaps part of the reason it is easily forgotten is that we would like, at times, to forget about those tragic aspects of life!

Lamentations is clearly written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians and the exile of Judah after 586 BCE. While it remains entirely possible that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations (the timing and the context are right), there is no definitive evidence that he did so. While Lamentations is placed between the prophetic books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in form and style it is more akin to the Psalms; perhaps this is why, in the Hebrew Bible, Lamentations is in the same part of the Bible as the Psalms (Ketuvim, “The Writings”).

There is an irony within Lamentations that is lost in translation. Whereas the substance of the material laments the violence, humiliation, and degradation of Israel, graphically describing the tragic events of the destruction of Jerusalem, most of Lamentations is written in acrostic form: chapters 1, 2, and 4 have 22 verses with two lines each, and the first word of the first line of each verse begins with each successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 3 is similar, but features 66 verses, three verses of one line each for each successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Therefore, even though the scenes described are graphic and horrendous, they are presented in this very orderly and tight form of Hebrew poetry, the most orderly form of Hebrew poetry in existence. Lamentations was not thrown together in the wake of the events; it represents a series of very well thought-out and tightly presented laments over the fate of Judah.

But then there is the fifth chapter of Lamentations. Whereas the first four chapters are structured in an orderly form, chapter 5 has no such structure. It is not an acrostic. Lamentations 5 is still written as a psalm, and still represents poetry, but it is markedly different from what came before.

Why is chapter 5 so different? One might argue that it has been added on to the collection, but we are still required to ask why someone felt compelled to add it on when the previous psalms have been so tightly organized. Lamentations 5 is no less a part of Lamentations than the previous four chapters; perhaps the raw emotion and agony could no longer be contained in the disciplined acrostic form.

The end of Lamentations 5 is quite haunting:

Thou, O YHWH, abidest for ever / Thy throne is from generation to generation.
Wherefore dost thou forget us forever / And forsake us so long time?
Turn thou us unto thee, O YHWH, and we shall be turned / Renew our days as of old.
But thou hast utterly rejected us / Thou art very wroth against us (Lamentations 5:19-22).

We want the “happy ending”; no doubt, so did Israel. Nevertheless, that is not the ending that the author of Lamentations sees. He has seen the violence, degradation, and humiliation of his people (Lamentations 5:1-18). Everything that used to represent a prosperous people is gone. The author is most likely still in the exile; even if he is writing after the return to the land, it still feels like exile and abandonment.

We must first note the author’s abiding faith in God. Even though he has seen the destruction of everything that he knew, the author still recognizes that YHWH is God, that He abides forever, and that He still reigns (Lamentations 5:19). In the face of his circumstances this is no small confession! We do not know how many Israelites lost faith in YHWH and turned instead to Marduk and the Babylonian gods, falling for the lie that since Babylon was triumphant, her gods must be true (contra Isaiah 40:6-8, 46:1-4). How could anyone seriously advocate YHWH’s sovereignty when His people are cast down and exiled in a foreign land?

The author of Lamentations is faced with this challenge: how can YHWH be the God of Israel, truly Sovereign, and yet His people are despised and cast off? It is a challenge that has been faced by every person who has placed his confidence in God and yet has endured difficult circumstances. For many, their answer is that there is no God, because they cannot mentally reconcile their current conditions with their picture of God. Most recognize that such an answer does not really change anything and cannot be reconciled with the immanent reality that there is something beyond humanity and the physical universe. Another answer is to confess that “bad things just happen,” understanding the consequences of sin and free will (cf. Romans 5:12-18, 8:20-22). Yet we would think it impious to feel that way about blessings from God, that they “just happen”! We understand that when blessings come from God, we ought to praise Him. So why would we then believe that when adversity comes, that God is entirely uninvolved (cf. Job 1:21, 2:10)?

Another answer is the one on which the Lamentations author has settled: the hot anger of God (Lamentations 5:22). This is an answer with which we must show great care, for it seems that with every natural or artificial disaster there is always someone willing to say that it is a demonstration of God’s anger with those particular individuals. Perhaps God is angry with them; but how do we know that He is specifically angry with them, and how do we know that He is not equally as angry with us or others? How can we presume to know the mind of God toward that particular group of people without specific revelation from Him? In this case, however, the author of Lamentations can know for certain that it is God’s anger that led to these conditions, for such was the warning of the prophets to Israel and Judah (cf. 2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Chronicles 36:15-21). YHWH was the God of Israel, holy, Sovereign, and very angry with His people because of their idolatry and sinfulness!

Notice that the Lamentations author does not consider God unjust or in the wrong for what He has done to Judah and Israel. He accepts the punishment as a result of God’s anger toward them, and he understands how God has rejected Israel because of sin. Unlike so many today, whose faith cannot seemingly handle much adversity whatsoever, he maintains his confidence in YHWH as the Ruler of the Universe while suffering His wrath. But he still wants to know for how long God will forget Israel. He still begs God to turn back to Israel and to restore her as of old (Lamentations 5:20-21).

Perhaps the author of Lamentations is aware of the message of hope and promise from the prophets during the “latter days” (cf. Isaiah 11:1-10, 65:17-25, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Joel 2:28-32, etc.). We cannot know for certain. But we can see from his writings that if he is aware of that promise, it seems very distant from him. He, and Israel, have drunk the full cup of wrath of YHWH, and while he knows that YHWH is Sovereign, and hopes that God will turn back toward Israel, all he knows is that Israel is as forgotten and forsaken and that YHWH remains exceedingly angry with Israel.

And thus the book ends. The question remains unanswered: why has God forgotten Israel, forsaking her for many days? It remains unanswered not because there is no reason that could be given, but because the pain and suffering is still acute. Whatever may happen in the future is not clearly known. All that the author knows is that Israel is still rejected, still cast off, still forgotten, and therefore YHWH must still be angry with her.

Yes, there would be brighter days ahead. People would return to Jerusalem, but it would be ruled over by outsiders. The promises of the “latter days” would find their fulfillment in Jesus and the Kingdom He established. Yet, until the day of resurrection, days of distress and anguish continue to occur. There are times in all of our lives when we must live with the unanswered question.

Why do trials and tribulations come upon me?
Why is there such suffering all around?
Why does evil still seem to prevail?
Has God forgotten about us?

It is when we are afflicted by questions like these that it is good to return to the book of Lamentations and to gain from the voice of one who experienced great distress in days of old. Perhaps “the reason” involves general distress based on the corrupted environment in which we live; perhaps “the reason” does involve the anger of God; even if we cannot know for certain whether it is or is not, we ought to at least be open to the possibility. Whatever “the reason” might be, we ought to be like Job and perceive God’s blessings and care even in the midst of difficulties and distress. We might also have to, like the author of Lamentations before us, live with the unanswered question. We may be intellectually aware of the hope and promise set before us on the day of resurrection, but we must be ready for those days when that day seems rather distant. We may be in distress; it might seem as if God has rejected us and has forgotten us; but God remains holy, Sovereign, and good. Even in the midst of the unanswered question, we can bless the name of God. In fact, it is only when we have deep and abiding confidence in God, His existence, and His power, that we can truly struggle with the unanswered questions of pain, anguish, and distress. Let us seek to have that level of faith.

Ethan R. Longhenry