September 12, 2013

Putting Money Where the Fish’s Mouth Is

Ah yes...God's wild kingdom. 

All throughout the Bible we see God’s revelation to man because the Bible is God’s revelation to man. What we also see is God revealing His will through His creation…even that of his wild creation in the animal kingdom. We see God use the animals to parlay spiritual truths, salvational truths or similar actions. We see animals play a direct or indirect role in the lives of people in the Bible. In the end we know that all man will ever need to know about salvational things is in God’s mind open to us in Scripture. I think it is quite skillful that God can and does use the beast of burden and beasts of the field to make His will either known or carried out. Even when people fail to carry out God’s will, God is sovereign and powerful enough to communicate truths even through that of a creature lower than man. Sometimes this is solely for the purpose of God’s Kingdom to come to the fore. So in essence what we see is the animal kingdom bring honor and glory to God's Kingdom.

Genesis 22:13 ~ Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

God provided Abraham a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac. Here we see God reward Abraham’s faithfulness with a substitute…just as we will see in Jesus. Here we see that for those the most faithful there are often the severest trials to continue to build the character of that faith. Having endured the trials the spiritual truths that often lie behind them come into clearer contrast and focus, in this case we see a shadow of Christ.

We then have the story of Elijah who hid from Ahab at the brook Cherith, and ravens brought him bread and flesh, morning and evening  in 1 Kings 17:6

1 Kings 17:6 ~ The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

Ravens are carrion birds. Either Elijah was close to starvation at times or he had few scruples. Ravens scavenged the dead. In eating from the Ravens Elijah was gaining life and sustenance from the dead. We see life gained from that which has died-perhaps a shadow of Christ in its subtlety.

There are many (mostly liberal theologians) that will discount miraculous stories like this because of the almost human nature of the duty of the ravens. Rationalistically, these events are hard to explain so they are readily discounted as myth. I disagree. The “matter of fact” method of narration precludes discounting them as embellished myth. They are written as historical narrative accounts. A style that was unheard of at the time of the writing of the book of the Kings. In effect what we are really seeing here is not a repeated visit from a dumb raven with pieces of a dead carcass in its beak but instead we are seeing a continued act of the supernatural orchestrated by a supernatural and sovereign God.

To discount as not miraculous and not supernatural is to deny the act of God behind the bird. This passage is utterly clear in that God commanded or instructed the birds to supply Elijah’s needs (verse 4). For these episode and those like the floating ax head we must put aside our doubting rationalistic skepticism and leap out in faith just as Elijah had to in waiting for this bird to bring him his meals. Do we suppose it was any easier for Elijah to believe in faith that a bird would continue to supply him with sustenance than it is for us to do the same? It just shows how faithful Elijah was towards God’s assurances and how little faith we have to doubt it. It shows a complete lack of faith for those who deny it.

God has the entire creation under his Sovereign control. To me, between humans and animals, the animals should be the easier of two to work with because they have no self-will or self-awareness and as such working with animals to create an outcome seems straight forward. We must remember that the stories of the Kings, which are really stories of the prophets like Elijah and Elisha are historical narrative, not fiction. In this respect they are documentaries.

Speaking of Elisha we should mention the cursed children at Bethel, in the name of the Lord, that taunted him for his baldness. Two she bears appeared and tore forty-two of the children in 2 Kings 2:24

2 Kings 2:24 ~ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

The first thing we notice right from the start is Elisha does not seek to defend himself or seek retribution directly. He does so through the Lord if it is His will. Apparently it was as the bears inflict some serious carnage and death. God does this in Elisha’s defense. In reality God is only staying true to his nature as He has already outlined that those who disobey God’s statues (or essentially fight God’s people who do obey---will be cursed). Elijah is then only asking God to stay true to His nature by calling down the curse in real time. As it is within God’s perfect will, God obliges. God will defend His own if He so desires and wills it.

Like Christians nowadays Elisha is met with derision and contempt instead of the honor and respect that a man of God deserves. This is the nature of true persecution…yet he does not actively defend himself he calls on God to do so. Why? Because it is not Elisha per se that is being mocked. Because he is a true man of God, these boys are in reality mocking God. God will not be mocked.  It was true then and it is true today. We should not think evil people are getting away with horrendous evils and haughty attitudes. God is a patient God and at some point his longsuffering and patience ends. I suspect that time is coming sooner than later.

Some will say that God was cruel for killing these boys in this manner. My question is simple. What do rebellious little boys grow into? They grow into rebellious grown men capable of bigger evils than the children. God may have very well done them a favor by preventing them from performing more heinous evils in adulthood by executing them in youth. The more a man knows the more he will be held accountable for on the Day of Judgment. It is the same reasoning that goes into justifying the genocide of murderous pagan societies condemned to complete eradication in front of Joshua’s army and at the point of his sword.

It is sadly ironic that we will see the same ridicule and mockery in the story of Jesus. The same type of judgment will fall on those that did as these boys did and did not repent. As then…so too now. On the other hand, those that did repented of this monstrous evil were saved as we will see in Acts 2 and Peter’s preaching of the Gospel to the Jews.

Acts 2:22-24 ~ “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know, this man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

Then later following Peter’s sermon we read…

Acts 2:36-39 ~ “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

The last animal “transaction” I will mention also happens to be one of my favorite. It is the fish Jesus provides Peter with to pay tribute in Matthew 17:27

Matthew 17:27 ~ However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

We see many things. The first of which is the obedience to the authorities. Christ obeyed the lex terrae and paid the tribute due being the Son of God. No harm no foul. A tribute was due to magistrates for public service, they were being paid to do a job. Not all were crooked and as such some workers would’ve been worthy of their wages…but that is not the true issue here. Jesus is living out Romans 13 long before Paul writes it. We see a confirmation of biblical principles espoused by Paul through the actions of Jesus thereby validating Paul’s words as true and accurate Scripture. If you want something to back up you actions as being biblical and within the will of God, there is no better place to look that God Himself!

Nor does Jesus exempt His disciples/ministers from the civil or civic duties. To me this would include being a police officer, fireman, government official and soldiers. Being the Son of God Jesus was under no obligation to do so but being free to do as He pleased being God…He chose to pay the tribute. Why? If for no other reason to serve as a perfect example of what a Christian should do and what they should be. Here we see a great example of what Hebrews 2 and Philippians 2 says of the humbleness of Christ and purposes of Christ within the will of the Father. For doing this Jesus would be exalted by the Father. So too shall we if we persevere to the end because we will be coheirs in Christ. In God’s economy, down is up and lowering is to be raised. Jesus voluntarily made himself low and poor so that we could be raised and made rich in righteousness and holiness.

Hebrews 2:9 ~ But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Philippians 2:6 ~ “….have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So it is ironic that in this poorness He would not readily have the money available to pay the tribute at hand but could easily produce it through supernatural means. So in the story we see a willing submission to beings of lesser authority but in an effort to obey them, Jesus displays profound supernatural power over the creation in producing the coin from a fishes mouth. It is as if Jesus is saying without words, “I will obey your laws of the land but do not forget who made and owns the land, who made the metal that made the money and even created you in God’s image.” It is just another way of saying, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” A paradoxical Life for sure but all the more evidence that it is a Life that has to have been of divine origins for divine purposes.

Jesus did not have to pay this tribute, He chose to so there is would be no offense caused. I suggest it was to not besmirch or bring scandal to the Gospel that He preaches and teaches. We must learn a profound lesson from this. Everything Jesus did was to bring glory to the Father. It is a lesson that should be second nature to the Christian. When Jesus allows Himself to be subject to this tribute He shows Himself Lord over all creatures because His humility is by choice and always at the perfect will and glory of the Father. For this He is put above all…forever.

I also find it ironic that Jesus will tell Peter (a fisherman), to find tribute money in the mouth of the very thing from which Peter had formerly found gainful employment. Although allegorical, this can be seen as God sending us back to things we were familiar with to find the things we need to move forward. Peter must go to the very thing he left behind as a fisherman to get something he needs to move forward. This is a lot like our testimony as believers. He must fish money from a fish's mouth to better serve Jesus and become the fisher of men Jesus is training him to be.

God didn’t necessarily put the money in the fish’s mouth. He put the fish and the money where Peter could find it and in so doing, showed He was sovereign over man, animal, elements, timing and even…humility. He was willing to submit Himself to the laws of the land of His time like all other human beings. Let me say that again. He is sovereign over humility…an unfathomable paradox considering He is exalted above all. Only though a suffering servant and Triune God is this possible. Only through Jesus who is part of One Being but three functionally different personalities is this possible. Only through a servant can a King be known, through a death can life eternal arise or as it is said in John 12:24 …unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

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