Sunday, March 11, 2007

Repentance and justification by faith

"There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.' " (Luke 13:1-5)

According to F. F. Bruce in his New Testament History, two events may be in reference to what Jesus said here. (1) In response to his demand that the Temple coffer partially fund his newly-built aqueducts—Pilate argued that the Temple shared in its benefits through its water supply for priestly cleansings—a protest occurred over this sacrilege, this mingling of Rome and Temple and the wielding of Pilate’s power over the Jewish religion. This attack of Galilean pilgrims in the Temple courts would have (at least figuratively) meant that their blood was mingled with that of the sacrificial offerings.[1]

(2) The event at Siloam (SE corner of Jerusalem), though it may well have been simply a natural disaster, in Jesus’ context in Luke 13:4 may indicate that it, too, occurred when a military insurrection against Rome was upset, and the insurrectionists’ tower pulled down.[2]

If these are in fact the events surrounding Jesus’ warning, the message may be something like this: “If their minds remained bent upon resistance to Rome, then ruin would befall their city and themselves. Why not rather follow the way of the Son of Man, the way of submission and service, and thus establish the new kingdom—not as a result of obedience to God’s will but in obedience to his will?”[3]

No matter how much the Jews (or anyone else, for that matter) wanted to bring about the kingdom’s promises of peace, prosperity, and freedom for Israel, it was never going to happen on their own accord, by their own action, on their own terms. Instead of trusting God to fulfill his promise and make it happen himself, they were trying to seize it through their own actions. Many hoped that their obedience to Torah and their opposition to the nations would inaugurate God’s saving work. In essence, they didn’t believe God’s promises nor his power to fulfill them. Instead of waiting patiently for him (Ps. 46:10), they tried to do God’s work in their own ways, effectively removing God from their lives and setting themselves in his place. They became directors of their own history, gods themselves. Directors of their own lives and history, the King is supplanted by self—a grievous and blatant transgression.

And yet the truth was that Jerusalem, representative of all Israel who rejected the Messiah, never learned “the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:41), failing to see that in Jesus God their Savior had truly visited them to bring his salvation and judgment: in him God’s kingdom was already present, apart from anything they had ever done. All they had to do was open their eyes to him and believe it—believe him. In an eerily similar rebuke to Israel that their disobedience of God’s will shall bring about the utter collapse and destruction of Jerusalem (Isaiah 30:8-17), the prophet offers this call to simply trust in Yahweh: “For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength. . . . Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him’” (30:15, 18).

Even if these two events as described by Bruce were not in fact what Jesus was referring to, the call stands: Unless you keep trying to direct your own life and achieve good, blessing, and joy, or “heaven” or anything else you desire, by your own means, under your own effort and apart from trust in God and his Messiah, you will likewise perish. You will never participate in the kingdom of God, the new heavens and the new earth. Unless you simply trust that in Jesus of Nazareth God reigns and has done away with all that plagues us—sin’s corruption, guilt, and shame, death-separation from God as a result of our sin, the swaying powers of the devil, and the oppression of world powers—then you will surely die.

Thus justification by faith alone still wholeheartedly accords with the call, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” for it is only when we stop trying to see things happen by our works, whether those of the Law (Torah) or by being a good person according to the law within our own hearts (Rom. 2:15), that God will act to save us.

[1] F. F. Bruce, New Testament History (New York: Doubleday, 1969), 36-7.
[2] Ibid., 37, 188.
[3] Ibid., 188.


HALFMOM said...

My goodness, you posted again before I finished thinking about the last one. I think that I think slower than you do - or perhaps all the science and momming takes up too much brain space.

So, I decided that the good news is this - that I don't have to die in my sin - I don't have to face God and be condemned - not only do I get my debt paid for me for absolutely nothing - negative a trillion zillion less than nothing actually - I get to have His love and friendship in this life and the next.

As to the new posting - by faith or by grace through faith - check the Greek.

Best wishes to you as another Lenten Wed comes upon us.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

Haha, "by grace through faith" of course -- but both "by" and "through" really mean the same thing in our funny little English, don't they?

Actually, this was part of Ryan and my ruminations from the past few weeks, when one of my friends challenged us: "If the gospel is Jesus is Lord/God reigns, what does that have to do with justification through faith"? So . . . this was the result.

HALFMOM said...

and not a bad result at all! just takes a bit of slogging through for me - you know - the basic reductionist scientist - what's the bottom line? (my daughter does not like hearing this when telling me something)

I owed a debt I couldn't pay and He paid it for me - go figure - Sounds like good news to me!

Why - who knows but Him - which I guess is really enough given it was His choice. I'll probably spend the rest of eternity thinking about that one!

If I knew the right language I'd also wish you good day and good evening - and tell you that a touch of spring has come here and that I'm headed to your home state in a couple of weeks.