Monday, April 30, 2012

The Gospels and the Story of Israel

Right now I'm reading How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright. At first glance, a Christian might see this book and its subtitle and think this is yet another book trying to tell a different story than what we already know.

They'd be right.

The catch is that the story Wright is talking about is one that the Gospels are actually telling. It's the story of Israel's long hard history finding its climax in Jesus of Nazareth. It is, as the title says, the story about how God became king.

Wright has often illuminated many things for me that I haven't been able to see before. It is new to me, but not new to the Bible and certainly not new to the Gospel writers.

N.T. Wright has a knack for pointing out what I call "old-new information" in the Bible. It is new insofar as it is something most of us conditioned by the Western church have never seen before and old because this same information was woven into the minds of the earliest believers. In other words, they saw the things we call "new insights" the same way we see some of the most basic tenets of our faith.

Because this illumination places the light on a broader, more significant picture and because it is "new," many Christians shy away from it. It's easy keeping the Gospels where we've always had them and understood them (usually in isolation or to "prove" Jesus' divinity), rather than take up the challenge of reading them the way Jesus intended us to read them.

One thing I've personally noticed, whether at church or bible studies, is the tendency to read the Gospels in isolation. The only time the Old Testament is referred to is to 1) show that Jesus fulfilled prophecy and 2) to show that we're "getting rid" of the law by contrasting what Jesus' is saying to the OT.

Rarely does anyone ever see the Gospels as the climax of Israel's history. If we read the OT the way the Gospel writers did, we wouldn't have missed the many important aspects of their telling the story of Jesus.

Reading the Gospels against the backdrop of our post-modern secular culture, we're tempted (naturally, Wright points out) to use the Gospels as some sort of apologetic against the historical criticism of late. The skeptics say, "Jesus didn't really think he was divine," and we play their game and go search out the Gospels, picking it apart to use what we find as a way to counter the skeptics. What has resulted is an overemphasis of certain aspects of the Gospel and an under-emphasis of very important aspects of the Gospels.

In this book, Wright attempts to balance out the music to the point where everything is resonating perfectly so that certain aspects aren't drowned out by what our secular culture demands or what the whole of the western church asks for.

Rather than the ever loud JESUS IS GOD, JESUS IS GOD, JESUS IS GOD! Wright turns it down so we can hear it clearly. It's not just JESUS IS GOD. It's Jesus is the God of Israel coming to visit His people and  to dwell among them. He is everything Israel had hoped for and indeed was hoping for, quite desperately, at the time. The Jews had their temple, but no shekina glory, not since the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 587BC. Herod's efforts were indicative of the sentiment in Judea at the time, Israel was waiting for their Savior, for God to come back and rescue them from slavery to the Pagans in Rome.

The Gospels tell the story of how God has come back to rescue them from slavery and dwell among them and become their King. Now, rather than the Gospels being mere advice for our personal lives, as is all to common in the Western church today, they can be read for everything they're worth. Jesus is saying something significant, something worth listening to. He is saying that He embodies the God of Israel, that He has come to save His people, that the shekina glory has returned to the temple, albeit in a very different form.

To be continued...

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