Thursday, December 20, 2007

Subtle difference that makes all the difference

'Our task is not to tell people that they must believe in Jesus,
but so to tell them of Jesus that they must believe in Him.’

Steve Holmes (ht: Glen Scrivener)

The challenge with that is that it's much easier to tell people what they should do, or at least that's the way it seems in practice. My deceitful heart is quite happy to tell people to change their behaviour but talking about Jesus seems to be so easy to bottle. Yet, what better subject matter! Has to be our first interpretative key to any passage - yes find out what it says but then when it comes to what's the key meaning and message here it has got to be 'what does this part of the Spirit-breathed word say about the Lord Jesus?' -

As I reflect on studying the middle of Esther this week that's a challenging question. There is a passage that doesn't mention Jesus. It doesn't even mention any of the persons of the Trinity. But it does show us the people of God trusting in the promises of God to deliver them - promises that when read as Christian Scripture have their completion in the cross of Christ where all promises of deliverance are yes.

The story shows us that this is the way our God works even when he's not explicitly seen in a situation. Why absent? Could it be due to the exile? Maybe, but then he's explicitly seen in Daniel... maybe simply because the story makes it's God-centred point much better when God is only implicitly present. The book is set in the context of 65 other books so you have the whole sweep of God's story playing in the background. Not to mention that in storytelling terms the impact is stronger when you're asking - why doesn't Mordecai bow? How is he so sure that they'll be delivered? And where will that deliverance come from?

Something I noticed this time I studied it was the way that the Enemy Haman is hung on gallows... from which we can say (?) that he's 'hung on a tree' which is to say he'd be cursed. Which is what happens to those who curse the people of God, they're cursed (whereas those who bless God's people are blessed). Not to mention a foreshadowing of another man hung on a tree for the deliverance of God's people... though that'll be an Innocent deliverer rather than a guilty enemy... Hear the story of God. The story of Jesus.


  1. Thanks for these reflections on Esther - it's a great post and very helpful.

    The quote sounds good too. I think of Acts 2 where Peter so tells the people of Jesus that they are cut to the heart. My only problem is that elsewhere, the call to repent is a command (e.g. Acts 17.30), so our task is also to tell people that they must believe in Jesus.

  2. Interesting observations on Haman hanging on a gallows. Do you think the same is true of the pagan king of Ai (Joshua 8:29) who like Jesus is hung on a tree and covered with stone(s), but unlike Jesus the stones aren't removed?

  3. James, love it! Bethel and Ai is an amazing place for an altar to be! Between "the house of God" and "ruin" stands a hill-top place of sacrifice (see Gen 12:8 & 13:3) and the place from which victory over the ruler of the enemies of God occurs (Josh 8). And of course it happens through an accursed lifting up on the tree.

    Dan, all Christ's commands enjoin that which is impossible. "Stretch out your (un-stretch-out-able) hand", "Lazarus come out." etc. As it was in the beginning - "Let there be light" said God when there was no light. "Repent and believe" is a prime example of commanding the impossible! Yet in the command of the LORD resides a power to accomplish that which is commanded. (Speech-act theorists call this a 'performative'. A bit like when we say 'Wake up.' The very saying of it does the job of waking up).

    But there ought to be a very close link between the specific command and the desired response. So Jesus doesn't say 'Abracadabra' and we don't wake people up crying 'Jellied eels!' So it is with preaching. We may command repentance and faith but it must be in the context of lifting up the Christ in Whom they are to trust. And we should never give the impression that such power to turn to Christ lies *naturally* in the listener.

    Remember the Owen line: "To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect." We remain most true to those words when we focus the listener not on their willing response but on Christ's gracious offer.