Saturday, March 20, 2010

Let My People Go, Part 2 (RVL)

Let My People Go part 2  Ray Vander Laan 3/7/2010 Central Wesleyan Church (as related by Dennis Kananen from his notes and recollection)
The Jews in Jesus’ time lived in tension. They understood that they were to stay ceremonially clean by staying away from unclean things (like dead bodies, mildew, and things that Gentiles ate). While these things were important, they weren't supposed to get in the way of spreading the Good News. That is one of the reasons why God prepared Israel for this mission by having them go through the Exodus. One of the themes that God reminds His people about is “You should love those who are foreigners because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” But this was hard for them to change.
Here is an illustration of how difficult it was for them. Some of this comes from Ray and some are my thoughts.
The so-called “Sea of Galilee” (I say that because it’s really a large lake, around 8 miles wide and 13 miles North/South that is today called Lake Kinneret), like all bodies of water, was considered by the Jews to represent “the abyss”. It has the lowest elevation of all lakes in the world. Having lake frontage property was not considered a plus, though it was to my eyes very beautiful.
In the first century, the north and northwestern side of Lake Kinneret was primarily Jewish territory and the entire eastern side of the lake was Gentile. It had 10 cities that were called the Decapolis. To the Jews, this area was off limits; they called it the “other side”. So, when Jesus said to his disciples, in Mark 4: 35- 5:20, “Let us cross over to the other side.” they would have thought to themselves: What! I don’t want to go there! It’s unclean. And then a storm arose and, of all things, Jesus falls asleep in the stern! This is a reversal of the Jonah story, where Jonah falls asleep in the boat amidst a great storm as he is running away from the Gentiles. But in this case, when Jesus rebuked the storm and there was instant calm, the disciples thought “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” They would have seen the parallel to Jonah and its application was even greater because the sea represented chaos, and only God has authority over chaos.
Most of us know the story from here, how the demon-possessed man was delivered and the demons were sent into the pigs who ran violently down the slope into the abyss. But did you notice, that only Jesus got out of the boat? The disciples stayed in the boat and watched from there; they weren't about to go where it was unclean; they had forgotten what it was like to be in Egypt. 
There is a curious verse in Matthew 11:12 that has been misunderstood by many: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” There is a story In the book of Micah 3:12-13 that is related to this: “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob. I will surely gather the remnant of Israel: I will put them together like sheep of the fold. Like a flock in the midst of their pasture; They shall make a loud noise because of so many people. The one who breaks open will come up before them; They will break out, pass through the gate, and go out by it; Their king will pass before them, with the LORD at their head.”
The event that both Jesus and this passage from Micah is talking about is the following:
In the country, as a shepherd would take care of his flock of sheep, he would often look for a place where there were rocks that could provide 2 or 3 sides of an enclosure and then he constructed a fence out of smaller rocks that enclosed the area. In this safe environment the sheep and the shepherd could spend the night. In the morning the sheep were anxious to get out. They would make a lot of bleating noises and check the perimeter. When the shepherd would make an opening in the fence, the sheep and goats would bunch up in anticipation, pushing toward the opening. In the mayhem, the animals in front would seize the first opportunity and jump the gap. Others would then follow, not knowing exactly about their footing but glad for the freedom."
The one “who breaks open will come up before them” is John the Baptist. 
“Their king will pass before them, with the LORD at their head.” is the Messiah and the Father.
We are the sheep.
The Greek word for “forcefully” is biazo. The Hebrew word for “breaks open” is perez. They are the same concept.
Ray talked about this word perez with the rabbis in Israel. They said it was involved in Jesus’ DNA! In the story of Tamar. 
In the Torah readings of the story of Joseph, the dialogue is interrupted by the strange tale of Judah and Tamar in chapter 38. Why is this put here? 
After Joseph was sold to the Midianites who took him down to Egypt, Judah and his brothers concocted a ruse to tell their father. They took his coat of many colors, tore it up and dipped it into blood. Then Judah showed it to his father and asked him “do you recognize this?” Years later, chapter 38 recounts the time when God had to save the bloodline of the Messiah from contamination. Judah married the daughter of a Canaanite and they had 3 sons. One of those sons, named Er, married a non-Jewish girl named Tamar, but then Er died. Through a series of rather bizarre events, the other two sons died in their refusal to marry Tamar (which was their duty under their custom/law) and so the promise that the Messiah would come through Judah languished. Then Judah’s wife died and Tamar saw an opportunity to complete her life; little did she know that God used their conniving and sin to accomplish his purposes. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and Judah was eager to use her services; the transaction was made by Judah giving Tamar his signet ring and walking stick as a temporary payment until the actual payment would be provided. This must all have occurred in the darkness of the tent, because Judah did not know it was Tamar. In any case, when Judah later learned that Tamar was pregnant, he rashly said she must die! Tamar then sent the walking stick and ring to Judah with these words: “Do you recognize these?” Judah was immediately convicted by these words that he had told to his father and Judah changed his mind. Tamar was brought into the household and the twins Perez and Zerah were born. Tamar and Perez are  mentioned in Matthew 1:3 as key links in the Messianic line.
Tamar was an outsider who was brought in. The Jews were outsiders and they were brought in. We were outsiders and we were brought in (through faith). 
Back to Egypt.
Joseph was accepted in Egypt because God had prepared the way for him. He moves nations and kingdoms to do his bidding. Several years before this, there had been an invasion of Egypt by a little known group from the Middle East called the Hyksos. Ethnically and culturally, they had much in common with the Hebrews, so when Joseph finally emerged from his trials, he was allowed to rise to the second highest office in the land. If the pharoah had been pure Egyptian, this would not have happened. But 300 years later the Hyksos were gone and pure Egyptian pharoahs took over; they treated the Hebrews as slaves.
When Joseph’s family came down to Egypt they lived in the Nile delta area called Goshen. It is incredibly rich, green land with its many tributaries of the Nile forming an isolated area. While Egypt would later become for the Jews a place of bondage, it nonetheless was very fertile and they had all they wanted to eat. 
Egypt is a desert, except where the Nile flows. To the Egyptian mind, the desert was chaos. And it was up to the gods and Pharoah as their representative and one of those gods to keep the Nile flowing and to keep order and harmony throughout the land. Throughout all of this presentation, Ray showed many slides that he had taken in Egypt of its temples, huge statues, fields, and deserts.
Ray concluded his time by showing that God’s intent, ever since the Garden of Eden, is to bring SHALOM, which is everything as God intended it to be. In order to do that, God has to confront the evil in the world and restore SHALOM by overcoming chaos.
And so, imagine the difficulty the Jewish people had with Moses; they were living in the lush green area of plenty called Goshen, when he came to them and said, I want to take you away from here into the desert - the place they had always thought represented chaos. It's kind of like the apostles who crossed the sea/abyss/chaos and couldn’t understand why Jesus wanted to go to the “other side”.
End of part 2

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