Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jesus in the Infrequented Text

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. - Luke 24:25-27 ESV

The church I serve has a Sunday morning class called "Bible 101." I launched the class soon after my arrival with the initial objective of reading through and discussing the first five books of the bible, called the Pentateuch. So far, this intrepid group has studied the entirety of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus. Three years into the class, we have now made it almost all the way through Numbers.

One of the things I try to do in the class is to demonstrate how these texts fit into the overall flow of salvation history. A paraphrased St. Augustine put it this way, "The New Testament is in the Old Testament contained, while the Old Testament is in the New Testament explained." I've taken this approach because of Jesus' critical teaching in Luke 24, where he explains to his disciples how the entire Old Testament is about him.

Every now and then, however, I need to be reminded of this truth, especially when examining infrequently studied texts.

Last Sunday was a case in point. The group studied Numbers 30, a chapter containing the law regarding oaths made to God. Remember the last time you heard a sermon on Numbers 30? Me neither.

Basically, the structure of the chapter is like this: Men are prohibited from making vows and then backing out of them when the underlying circumstances behind the vow change. The rules for women differ because they are understood to be under the authority of a head-of-household. For example, in the case of a never-married woman, her father has the right to cancel her vow if he so chooses. If a woman marries, this ability to cancel her vow becomes her husband's responsibility. Numbers 30 also gives instructions about vows to folks in other situations. An example would be cases where a woman is divorced or widowed and no longer attached to a head-of-household.

I walked the class through the text, and the biblical structure of the household. One of the things I pointed out is that women get the better deal in this chapter because, unlike the men, it is possible for them to get out of unwise, rash oaths made to God.  Having made this observation, which I thought was very astute, I asked if there were any questions. One of the participants then raised her hand and asked, "So what does this text tell us about Jesus?"

My immediate response was two-fold. First, I was thrilled that she asked the question, because it showed me that she had thoroughly learned that Jesus was serious in Luke 24 about everything in the OT pointing to him. My second response was one of dismay. How come I hadn't asked myself that question before showing up to teach that morning?

After giving it some thought I gave what I hope is an answer faithful to the story of salvation.  I remembered that the church is the bride of Christ and Jesus has the authority to loose and bind all things related to His Bride. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus not only fulfilled all of God's vows to His people, but also that he bore the full iniquity of every rash vow we have made with God and have broken due to our sinful forgetfulness and neglect. Jesus perfectly fulfilled Numbers 30 on Calvary.

Remember that Jesus is in every text. In some cases, we may not see Him, especially in those infrequently considered texts that we gloss over because we erroneously believe them to be superfluous or unimportant. But He's in those texts, too. We should not be fooled into thinking otherwise because of our inability to see properly.


  1. Anonymous6:56 PM

    Jesus talks about former teaching regarding vows in Mt. 5:33 and says (passages like Num. 30:2) teaching about keeping vows should now be changed to Jesus' new law: not making vows at all (5:34).

    Vows and promises are often used to manipulate others; adding other words or oaths or promises (that can later be ruled as not binding) leads to deceit and manipulation, the tactics of "the evil one" (5:37). Just say "yes, yes" (I will do it) or "no, no" (I won't do it). If someone asks you to "promise," it just means they doubt your word. And if someone says "trust me," it probably means you should not (trust their word).

  2. I think that's right. The issue (and problem) for many Christians always arises when the state insists on an oath in order to do business. The reformed church has historically tried to walk a line by suggested that Christians should not take any oaths except when required by the state. To this, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said (in the Cost of Discipleship), "[It] is questionable whether it is possible to lay down a general rule like that.”

    Back in January I preached on Matthew 5:33-37. Here is part of what I said:

    "Christian speech is to be simple and straightforward, so that our words will be sufficient that additional appeals to authority to attest to their truthfulness will be unnecessary. Separate oaths should never be necessary to attest to the truthfulness of our speech. Dale Bruner captures this nicely when he writes, 'the whole of Christian speech is to be invisibly oath-laden, transparently honest.' Because every word we utter should be the truth, oaths become totally redundant and actually work against us by suggesting that apart from them we might not be truthful."