Thoughts on the Fulfillment of Scripture

Thanks to some encouragement from Alice, I’m back.

This morning, I was reading some of John’s account of Good Friday. Several times, John 19 points to scripture being fulfilled in the events around Jesus’ crucifixion (specifically, verse 24, 28-30, & 36-37). Except for verses 28-30, John quotes the OT passages he has in mind. What is he doing when he does this?

Most of the time, I think we take this to mean that Jesus fulfilled a specific passage; that is to say, Isaiah or the Psalms or some other OT writer made a promise, and Jesus came along and fulfilled it. As if to say: look at all the individual things written of in the OT that Jesus did, which proved he is the Son of God.

But does this approach go far enough? Jesus is the Messiah, not simply because he checked off a bunch of boxes. Instead, when he “fulfills” scripture, it is less about a checklist, and more about the completion of God’s plan. To see this, all you have to do is use a NT with footnotes that points you to the OT passages referenced in the words John writes and Jesus says.

For example, let’s look at the one reference in John that isn’t clearly a direct OT reference: John 19.28-30. In fact, it’s just three words (and just one word in Greek): I am thirsty. With this one Greek one (dipso), John points us back to Psalm 69.21 (“They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst”; all quotes from NIV.)

Pretty clear connection between that verse and Jesus on the cross? Yes. But oftentimes we stop there, when that should be just the beginning. Read all of Psalm 69, and you’ll see the bigger picture that I think John wants us to get when he gives us that one word, dipso. Go ahead, read it now. And if you want a musical take on it, listen to this.

Psalm 69 starts with a desperate cry for help: “Save me o God, for the waters have come up to my neck. …I am worn out calling for help.” In verse 5, he references his guilt, but then turns around and says, “Zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.”

Then there’s verses 16-17: “Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.” Overwhelmed, the writer begs God to pour out His wrath on his enemies (v24). The Psalm then closes with the confidence that the Lord hears the needy, and won’t forget His captive people (v33) – but will restore their dwelling.

Now, who’s talking here? Tradition says it’s David. But the fact that these words have been preserved among the 150 Psalms demonstrates that these aren’t just the words of one man, but are the words of faithful Israel – broken and sinful, but desperate and dependent on God showing up and doing what He has promised to do.

So, when John points us to Psalm 69 with one word – with just one word – he is saying: Jesus inhabits these words. Their pain and promise, their desperation and doubt, their hope and confidence that God will not forget his people, but will appear with justice and mercy. Well, that’s what Jesus does. And that, I think, is what fulfillment of scripture looks like – not just fulfilling the words of one verse, but fulfilling the hopes, needs, and longings of a people who needed someone to take on their condition.

That sounds a lot like Israel. It also sounds a lot like me and you.

Why It’s Good to Cry

Can I be honest? I’ve never understood how some people can always have a sunny disposition. I’m not sure what to make of folks who always seem to be upbeat.

Now, to be sure, I could learn from such folks. And I hope I do. But I think it’s also true what the 4th century Christian leader, Gregory of Nyssa, said: “It is impossible for one to live without tears who considers things exactly as they are.”

Life isn’t easy. Challenges come our way, and, truthfully, I don’t always feel like smiling.

I think what I’m referring to is the ache that I believe is in every human heart. It’s a longing for more; it’s the ability to see what is, and what should be — and to recognize the two are so often so far apart.

Maybe this has something to do with getting older — because it’s not just my wife who’s piling on the years. And maybe, the older we get, the more we recognize how this life, this world, this this is not all it should be. It’s not all God wants it to be.

At this point, as I’m typing these words, I clicked over to my music app, which I had paused. When I looked at the next song, it’s by one of my favorite groups. The song’s title? Jesus wept. Lyrics include these lines:

Another bad guy wins
More good friends die
They mounted up like eagles
Now they’re dropping like flies
I cry “Let me out”
You’re saying “No, not yet”
Before he danced Jesus wept

Sure, it’s the shortest verse in the English New Testament. And yes, it’s a classic for kids to memorize who are looking for a simple verse to get points at VBS or camp. But what a powerful punch are contained in these two simple words: Jesus wept.

Jesus wept. My Jesus wept. The God-become-human Jesus wept. The One who knows how things ought to be — and came to make them that way — wept at all the ways they aren’t.

It may sound strange, but I take great comfort in the weeping of Jesus. For it shows me that I’m in good company when I weep at all the ways the world isn’t what it’s supposed to be; at all the ways the Church isn’t what it’s supposed to be; at all the ways those I love aren’t what they are meant to be; and at all the ways I am not what I am called to be. All my grief at these realities find their meaning in the reality that Jesus knows what I’m experiencing. For he ached for the very same things.

Now, to be clear, nothing I’m saying minimizes the reality of joy and peace. In fact, if anything, I think what I’m saying amplifies the need for the fruit of the Spirit. For, knowing what we know about this world and all its brokenness, we ache for more. And because of the presence of the Spirit, we get a taste of God’s grace in the midst of all this mess. The presence of joy isn’t the absence of ache and longing; it’s the hope and promise that our longing points to a Reality that is deeper than our hurt. Likewise, peace isn’t the lack of all longing; it’s the clinging to the promise that our longing is pointing somewhere.

And that somewhere is the kingdom that Jesus is building. It IS a kingdom of peace in the midst of war, suffering, divorce, depression, wayward children, and uncertain tomorrows. It IS a kingdom of love in a world of hate, apathy, racial tension, class warfare, and political bickering. It IS a kingdom of faithfulness in a world of faithlessness — faithlessness that I see on my TV set, and in my own heart.

So, that’s why I think it’s okay — even necessary — to put aside the smile sometimes, and even weep. For we long for what is not, but what Jesus came to bring — and what will one day Fully be. Til that day, I’m going to let the longing and ache I feel be a reminder, and a prompting, and a challenge to pray for, ache for, work for, listen for, and love toward the Kingdom of Hope.

It’s coming. I know it is. Because Jesus wept for it.

Faith, Doubt, & the Choice of Easter

Recently, I read a book I really enjoyed. The Skeptical Believer, by Daniel Taylor, wrestles with faith, doubt, and what it means to live what we believe. It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who likes questions, you’ll like this book. If you’re a person who simply has questions — whether you like them or not — well, then, you need to read this book.

Taylor doesn’t shy away from reasons skeptics have not to believe. In fact, he includes a chapter where he lists all kinds of reasons folks have to be skeptical, agnostic, or just straight-out atheist. There are intellectual objections (like the supposed inconsistency between faith and science). There are emotional objections (like the presence of pain and the absence of God). Some choose not to believe because of how the Church has acted throughout history (and there are plenty of ugly examples), and some can’t commit to belief when they find doctrines that they consider unpalatable. In total, Taylor lists 40 reasons people give for lack of belief in God, or the Bible, or the story of Easter that is at the center of both.

A part of what makes Taylor’s book unique is his willingness to address these concerns. He doesn’t dismiss them, or treat them casually. Instead, he challenges those who don’t believe to be honest in the search. Questions are ok, he says. But face them; don’t let the fact that you have questions keep you from honestly and fully pursuing truth. Taylor writes: Why would anyone stop looking? Why would you decide at 18 or 28 that there is no God, and not at least stay open to the idea that God might exist? If a person is really open to truth, why not stay open to truth?

In fact, why would anyone stop seeking Truth. Even for someone who doubts whether Truth (capital-T) exists, just the fact that you’re thinking about it means that it’s worth pursuing. By the sheer fact that we are able to ask big questions, why would anyone not?

Even so, when it comes to metaphysical matters, Taylor makes it clear: There is no such thing as certainty. When it comes to the Big Questions of God, purpose, and eternity, there can’t be certainty. That’s why we call it faith. And anyone, no matter what their decision is about the Big Questions, is making a faith decision — whether that faith is rooted ultimately in Science, or a Holy Book, or a life experience, or even just What-I-Feel-Inside-of-Me-Is-True. Ultimately, life is all about faith — in whatever form that takes.

Perhaps because of that, Taylor doesn’t point his reader to 3 convincing ideas that will turn a skeptic into a sure-minded believer. What he does point us to is the Story that is given to us in Scripture. It’s a story of hope, of grace, of meaning and purpose. And while we can argue with those who disagree with us, Taylor suggests a better apologetic, when he writes: “Having a plot for your life is better than having a proof.” For, as elaborates: “One can only answer some important questions, not with an argument, but with a life.”

In the end, I believe that the ultimate plot that tells me who I am is found in the Bible. And I believe that the ultimate guide for what Life is meant to be — and will one day fully be — is found in an itinerant preacher who made such an impact that the religious and political powers conspired to kill him. And they succeeded. For a time. Until Easter Sunday, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive.

I believe that’s exactly what happened on that first Easter, though I can’t prove it happened. No one can. But if it’s true, then everything changes, and life — my life, ALL of life — has new meaning, purpose, and direction.

So, this Easter Sunday, where I serve, I’ll be talking about the Choice that Easter lays before every person — the choice that Easter is either an End (death, Jesus defeated), or a Beginning (Jesus alive, Death defeated). You decide which is true, because only one can be true. But know this: either choice is ultimately a decision of faith. And, since it’s Easter, let’s just say: I know which basket I’m putting all my eggs in. How about you?