Real Presences
Thursday of Epiphany 6
21 February 2019
False dichotomies are dangerous things. Most intellectual dilemmas are not able to be resolved with a simple "either, or." Take for example the question, "When did you stop beating your wife?" No simple answer is able to be offered to it. The truth is always more nuanced, partaking of mystery, and deeper than we expect or can boil down into a couple of simple options. These false "either, ors" are used to simplify complex things; often for the purposes of instruction, but they must not be let stand as the state of the matter in the long run. Take for example the division between the two testaments in the Bible. The simplistic dichotomies divide this way: The Old Testament is what happened before Christ. The New Testament is what happened in the ministry of Christ in the world. The Old Testament is a set of laws and requirements. The New Testament is a proclamation of the gospel. The Old Testament is about Christ's forerunners. The New Testament is about Christ. And so on. All of these things include a great dose of the truth, but not the whole truth. The truth is always deeper and more interesting than that.
The New Testament testifies to Christ's continual involvement in the life of Israel, His people. He was always the Messiah of His people. He always was the Shepherd of Jacob. Speaking of the Old Testament, Jesus bluntly stated that they testify of Him (Jn 5:39). Elsewhere the Apostles described Israel sinning against Jesus when it acted in willful and unbelieving ways. Christ led the people through the Red Sea on dry ground. They passed over in Him. They drank of Him who was their Rock. Jesus is everywhere in the Old Testament. There is no point in reading it unless you are reading it for the sake of finding Him in its every page and syllable. This presupposition not only tells us how to read the text of the Old Testament rightly, it confronts us with the deeply mysterious reading of the Bible. This reading privileges the content which the One about whom it is written says is there to be mined by us. The great I AM who was before Abraham is the center of the Old Testament revelation.
It also confronts us with the divinity of the eternally pre-existent Son of God. From eternity, He existed with His Father and the Spirit, one God. All three persons together saw to the world's creation and its redemption from the catastrophe of the fall. God's intimate involvement with the world does not end when God banished Adam from Paradise. Israel's willful blindness made it impossible to see and recognize the approach of the Son of God to His people. He walked with His people in the Tabernacle, sacrifices, circumcision, and their suffering. In their weakness and wandering He was with them. Perhaps God is not invisible, just invisible to us. Israel simply did not expect to see their God among them, but He was really present among them.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  John Cassian
"When the Apostle wanted to make clear and patent to everybody [that Christ was with Israel in the Old Testament], he spoke as follows: 'Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe' (Jude 5). Elsewhere we read: 'We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents' (1Co 10:9). Peter, the chief of the apostles, says: 'Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will' (Acts 15:10-11). We know most certainly that the people of God were delivered from Egypt, and led dry-shod through a mighty expanse of water, and preserved in the vast desert wastes, by none but God alone; as it is written: 'The LORD alone guided [Jacob], no foreign god was with him.' (Deut 32:12). And how can an Apostle declare in so many and such clear passages that the people of the Jews were delivered from Egypt by Jesus, and that Christ was at that time tempted by the Jews in the wilderness, saying, 'We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents?' And further the blessed Apostle Peter says of all the saints who lived under the law of the Old Testament that they were saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Get out then, and wriggle out of this if you can-whoever you are-you who rage with vapid mouth and a spirit of blasphemy, and think that there is no difference at all between Adam and Christ; and you who deny that He was God before His birth of the Virgin, show clearly how you can prove that He was not God before His body came into existence. For lo, an Apostle says that the people were saved out of the land of Egypt by Jesus, that Christ was tempted by unbelievers in the wilderness, and that our fathers, that is, the patriarchs and prophets, were saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Deny it if you can. I shall not be surprised if you manage to deny what we all read, as you have already denied what we all believe. Know that even then it was Christ in God who led the people out of Egypt, and it was Christ in God who was tempted by the people who tempted, and it was Christ in God who saved all the righteous men by His lavish grace. For through the oneness of the mystery (of the Incarnation) the terms God and Christ so pass into each other, that whatever God did, that we may say that Christ did; and whatever afterward Christ bore, we may say that God bore. And so when the prophet said, 'There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god'(Ps 81:9), he announced it with the same meaning and in the same spirit as that with which the Apostle said that Christ was the leader of the people of Israel out of Egypt; to show that He who was born of the Virgin as man, was even through the unity of the mystery still in God. Otherwise, unless we believe this, we must either believe with the heretics that Christ is not God, or against the teaching of the prophet hold that He is a new God. But may it be far from the catholic people of God, to seem either to differ from the prophet or to agree with heretics. The people who should be blessed should not be involved in a curse, and be charged with putting their hope in man."

John Cassian,
Seven Books on the Incarnation, 5.9
1 Corinthians

I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play." We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
Lord Jesus, Son of God from eternity, You walked with Israel and presented Yourself to him in weakness under the signs of sacrifice and suffering. Yet he was a rebel against You and did not see what was right before His eyes. Send Your Holy Spirit and grant us in our day to see You through the sight-restoring power of the divine Word. Help us to find You where You desire to be found, in Your Word and Sacraments. Amen.
For all pastors who are bearing the cross of listening to confession, that they might be set free to give the forgiving Word of God to their flock and that they might not become weary in their work
For all the people who are suffering from the loss of employment, that they might find work in keeping with their vocation and that they might serve faithfully those for whom they will labor
For the work of Lutherans for Life, that many more people might confess the value of every life as given by God
Art: DAVID, Jacques-Louis Christ on the Cross (1782)

Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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