Deuteronomy | “A Prophets Plea”

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (31:6)

Deuteronomy is Moses’s farewell address to the Israelites as he transfers power to Joshua just before he dies.  Excluded from the promised land, he reflects on God’s call and provision as he led the people out of bondage to the edge of the promised land.  The importance and blessing of keeping the covenant is set in contrast to the curse that will follow disobedience.  His impassioned plea is accompanied with a reminder of the faithfulness and love of God towards his people in all circumstances.  God allows Moses to see the promised land from the mountain top before he dies, completing his mission from Egypt to Canaan.  

“Moses Reflects”

I stand at a distance on the edge of the promised land.

How long until my people squander their inheritance?

The promise is great.

I remember our failings.

I fear their future.

Which face shall they see?

Will you shelter them in your arms with a blessing;

Or execute justice with a curse?

430 years in Egypt erased the memory of Canaan.

Exile tamed them through trials, signs, wonders, and fearsome power.

The law chastised.

The word spoke through fire.

I saw your glory pass over and met you face to face.

It is not our righteousness

but the wickedness of nations that opens the land before us.

Lest we take credit for victory,

Remind us of the sacrifice.

God’s faithfulness supplants our doubt.

Seek out a remnant to give voice to resistance.

Let your power rest on those who trust in you.

My mission complete,

We shall meet again on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The painting is from Mindi Oaten’s “Garden of Grace Collection.” The writing is by Elaine Knudtson

https://www.mindioaten.com/blogs/mindi-oaten-art-blog

Numbers | “The Rock in the Wilderness”

And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord had disappeared. (Numbers 32:13)

Numbers follows the Israelites from Mount Sinai to the border of Canaan. The account of wilderness wanderings is replete with numerous cycles of testing, judgment, and redemption.  Their precarious existence in the desert contrasts with the distorted memory of the bounty of Egypt.  Moses bears the brunt of their bitterness and complaints, standing as an intermediary between God and the people.  He appoints 12 spies to investigate Canaan.  While the potential of the land exceeds expectations, the challenge of the conquest paralyzes their resolve.  Only Caleb and Joshua contradict the narrative by reminding the people of God’s deliverance in the past.  Overruled by doubt and cowardice, the Israelites turn back towards the wilderness after an aborted attempt to do battle on their own strength.  Condemned to remain in the desert until all the original exiles over 20 have died, they begin 40 years of wandering.  Even Moses is excluded from entering the promised land because he did not trust God to pour out living water from the rock.  As his ministry draws to a close, authority transitions away from Moses to Joshua, God’s chosen successor.  Through all the wilderness years, God remained faithful to his people despite their faith-less-ness.

“A Rock in the Wilderness”

In the wilderness, slavery’s sting vanishes in the mirage of nostalgia.

Under the cloud of God’s now but not yet,

Psalms of thanksgiving transpose into dissonance.

Wanderers complain about the present, idealize the past, and doubt the future.

Immobilized by cynicism and fear,

They turn back from the promised land,

forgetting God’s deliverance and grace.

Striking the living rock, Moses incurs God’s wrath along with his people.

As the healing waters flow, the journey comes to an end

And he glimpses the promised lands.

This is taken from the “Garden of Grace” collection: painting by Mindi Oaten; writing by Elaine Knudtson

Leviticus | “The Atonement: Aroma of Sacrifice”

By Elaine Knudtson

Painting by Mindi Oaten

“I am the LORD.  If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its seasons, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. . . I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid.” (Leviticus 26:2)

Leviticus outlines the regulations for worship and the duties of the priests in the tabernacle. The LORD demands perfection, purity, and holiness.  Atonement for sins is made by the priests, through the blood of sacrifice and the keeping of the law.  Moses reminds the people of the blessings that follow those who remain faithful and warns of the curse that follows the rejection of the law.  Despite the obstacles, the LORD desires a relationship with his people.

“Into Your Presence

What shall I give in exchange for my sin?

I envy the intimacy of Eden.

Now the path is empty, and the garden is a wilderness.

Priests, rituals, feasts, and sacrifice are no substitute

For the warmth of your touch or the

Lyricism of your voice as you whisper my name.

The law heaps guilt upon guilt, exposing imperfection.

Still, I set my face towards the promised land,

And reach for the grace sprinkled with the blood of sacrifice.

The aroma of your presence purifies my heart.

Wash my sin.

Remove the barrier that keeps me from you.

Lay your hands on my head and call me “Beloved.”

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(The above is part of a collaboration between Mindi Oaten and Elaine Knudtson in God’s Garden of Grace. It is a creative response to the scriptures. https://www.mindioaten.com/blogs/mindi-oaten-art-blog)

Exodus

(The following is part of a collaboration between Mindi Oaten and Elaine Knudtson in God’s Garden of Grace. It is a creative response to the scriptures. https://www.mindioaten.com/blogs/mindi-oaten-art-blog)

By Elaine Knudtson

Painting “The Anointed Deliverer” by Mindi Oaten

Exodus is a record of seminal events in Israel’s history leading to the deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and the establishment of God’s covenant on Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments.  With Moses as the central figure, God demonstrates his faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as he prepares them to enter the promised land.  His saving power on behalf of the people of Israel is revealed in the plagues of Egypt and the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.  Redemption is evident in the Passover narrative as God saves the firstborn Israelites through the sprinkling of the blood of an unblemished lamb on the door frames. Standing between the rebelliousness of the Israelites and the holiness of God, Moses mitigates God’s wrath by appealing to His mercy.  The glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle, built to worship and honor his presence in the fire and cloud, as he leads his people.

“Our Deliverer”

By Elaine Knudtson

Fostered in Pharaoh’s household, Moses emerges;

drawn out of water, tested in the wilderness, called by fire.

His people groan under Egypt’s yoke, awaiting salvation.

The staff of the Lord prevails, executing judgment through pestilence and plagues.

Redemption secured through the blood of the Passover lamb,

the children of Israel flee captivity through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea.

Protected by a pillar of fire, guided by a cloud, Moses encounters the glory of the Lord on Mount Sinai. 

Transfigured into lawgiver, judge, intercessor, and deliverer,

He descends, entrusted with the law and commandments.  

Enraged by idols conjured in his absence,

Moses smashes tablets and sentences apostates.

Chastened and forewarned, the faithful renew their commitment

to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, erecting a tabernacle,

anointed with the oil of obedience and wrapped in fine linen.

From eternity, behind the veil, our deliverer waits:

Jesus the Lamb of God.

Genesis | “The Promised Seed”

By Elaine Knudtson

(The following is part of a collaboration between Mindi Oaten and Elaine Knudtson in God’s Garden of Grace. It is a creative response to the scriptures.)

“The Promised Seed” by Mindi Oaten

https://www.mindioaten.com/blogs/mindi-oaten-art-blog

Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch, traditionally ascribed to Moses.  The first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation form a parenthesis around the story of God’s relationship with humanity.  Created in perfection, sin and death entered the world through disobedience.  From the beginning, God seeks to return us to the garden, even though it leads through the valley of the shadow of death to the cross.  We are imprinted with the image of God and a longing for the divine that haunts humanity from Adam and Eve through Noah and the patriarchs all the way to the final apocalypse.

————————————————-

“The Choice” By Elaine Knudtson

The choice has been made. 

Like gods, we know good and evil. 

Banished from paradise,  darkness hides his face.

We labor in brokenness, calling to Death, “Who’s to blame?”

The Seed confronts evil with love.

Choose to dance in the symphony of creation.

Paint a rainbow after the monsoons of destruction.

Weave a tapestry of promise with Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca.

Sacrifice ambition on the altar built by  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Retell the story of exile in Egypt.

Ferment hope into the fine wine of  joy.

Dare to rise from the dead.

Transform our fallenness in the chrysalis of redemption,

as we await the bloom of the new creation.

Where humanity  failed, Christ  triumphs.

(New Revised Standard Version)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (1:1)

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”. . . When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (3:2-7)

[The Lord said to the serpent] “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (3:15)

The Lord God banished [Adam and Eve] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (3:23-24)

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. . . But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (6:5-6, 8)

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord. . . The Lord said: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (8:22)

[The LORD said to Jacob]: “I am the LORD, the God your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. . . All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (28:13-15)

Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. . . God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land [Egypt] to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (50:20, 24)

Out of the Woods

By Elaine Knudtson

jumping pound

“The Return”

The valley has been dark and deep,

But I heard your voice in the stillness.

The whispering wind chased the rippling creek,

and the season changed in an instant.

I felt your presence in the morning sun,

the darkness dissolved on the meadow.

The table of blessing before me was laid,

I feasted on joy and thanksgiving.

The dark, dry, places were watered anew,

my voice returned with your presence.

A songbird descended and rested by me.

Hallelujah!  Sing of his glory!

I have returned to the garden.

 

“The Choice”

By Elaine Knudtson

photography of woman surrounded by sunflowers
Photo by Andre Furtado on Pexels.com

Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch, traditionally ascribed to Moses.  The first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation form a parenthesis around the story of God’s relationship with humanity.  Created in perfection, sin and death entered the world through disobedience.  From the beginning, God seeks to return us to the garden, even though it leads through the valley of the shadow of death to the cross.  We are imprinted with the image of God and a longing for the divine that haunts humanity from Adam and Eve through Noah and the patriarchs all the way to the final apocalypse.

 “The Choice”

The choice has been made. 

Like gods, we know good and evil. 

Banished from paradise,  darkness hides his face.

We labor in brokenness, calling to Death, “Who’s to blame?”

The Seed confronts evil with love.

Choose to dance in the symphony of creation.

Paint a rainbow after the monsoons of destruction.

Weave a tapestry of redemption with Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel. 

Retell the stories of promise in Egypt’s exile.

Ferment hope into the fine wine of  joy.

Dare to rise from the dead.

Transform our fallenness in the chrysalis of redemption, as we await the bloom of the new creation.

Where Eve failed, Christ has triumphed.

Restoration

By Elaine Knudtson

I am currently working on a collaborative project with Mindi Oaten, an artist who has painted a symbolic picture for each book of the Bible.  You can access her art on the following website:  www.mindioaten.com

My role is to “paint with words”, using the scripture as the basis for interpreting Mindi’s paintings.  The book of Haggai is a small Old Testament book written after the Jewish exile.  It is strangely pertinent to our situation with the COVID19 shut down.

Haggai | “Restores Our Worship”

God of Renewal

Now this is what the LORD Almighty says:  “Give careful thought to your ways.  You have planted much, but have harvested little. . . What you brought home, I blew away.  Why?” declares the LORD Almighty.  “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.  Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops.” (1:5-6; 9-10)

 Then Haggai, the LORD’s messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: “I am with you,” declares the LORD.  So the LORD stirred up the spirit of the whole remnant.  They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God. (1:13-14

 Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?  How does it look to you now?  Does it not seem to you like nothing?  But now be strong, . . .all you people of the land,” declares the LORD, “and work.  For I am with you,” declares the LORD Almighty.  This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear.” (2:3-5)

 “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the LORD Almighty.  “And in this place I will grant peace.” (2:9)

 Haggai was a prophet during the time of Ezra.  The building of the temple stalled as people focused on their own priorities and lost sight of the work of the Lord.  They are asked to consider the consequences of ignoring the things of God by remembering the former glory before the exile.  The Spirit of the LORD charges them to be strong and fear not.  A promise is given of ultimate deliverance when the Messiah comes.  The “glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house.” (2:9)

 “Restoration” by Elaine Knudtson

 Give careful thought to former ways.

Remember the times of prosperity,

when the fruit trees bloomed and the harvest was plentiful,

before the enemy destroyed our peace.

We worshiped together.

Now all is silent.

The Spirit empowers.

Be strong.

Fear not.

I am with you.

Rebuild the temple.

Worship, and be restored.

Easter Sunday

The Meaning of Easter

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

 “But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Peter on the day of Pentecost – Acts 2:24, 36)

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

“Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 6:4; 8:11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, the fundamental elements of the Christian gospel would no longer exist. The apostle Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But the universal testimony of the Christian scriptures is that Christ has been raised from the dead. And this event does not merely describe the interior feelings of the disciples (“we feel that he must still somehow be alive”), but rather has to do with objective, historical reality, something that many people on a variety of occasions perceived sensually, and not merely in their hearts. Christ “appeared” to his disciples after his burial (1 Cor 15:5-8), could be touched with one’s hands (John 20:27), and spoke in a real voice that people heard with their ears. The resurrection appearance of Jesus to Paul, even changed him from an enemy of Christianity into a passionate believer and apostle of Christ (Acts 9).

What is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus? Based on the scriptures quoted at the beginning of today’s reading, we can suggest that the resurrection means at least three things:

  • It says something about Jesus. Since God raised Jesus from the dead, this means that God has vindicated and affirms his identify as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Because of Easter we are, therefore, right to affirm Jesus as Lord and Savior. We believe in him and even worship him, and do not consider him to be simply a great teacher and prophet.
  • Christ’s resurrection becomes the basis for the hope (conviction) that we too will one day be raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). This means that we look forward not simply to surviving death as spiritual beings, but to a kind of life that includes a resurrected body and life in a new creation. Christ’s resurrection means that we do not long from release from creation, but for a renewal of creation—even of our own physical bodies.
  • The resurrection of Jesus means that in the present—between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of our own bodies in the age to come—we can enjoy an ongoing experience of the living Christ within us (Romans 6:4; 8:11). Easter, then, is not simply about what happened to Jesus two thousand years ago, nor is it only about what will one day happen to us after we die, but is also about a present fellowship that we enjoy even now with Jesus. Jesus is no longer dead; he lives even now within us.

Meditation: As you consider the meaning of Easter, what aspect of its message especially strikes you today? How do you think God wishes you to experience Easter in new ways or with new power?

Prayer: “O God, you have your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, so that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen”  (Lutheran Book of Worship).

 

 

Holy Week – Day 40

The Atonement

By Dr. Paul Knudtson

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The term “atonement” describes the theological significance of Christ’s death in bringing about our salvation. Throughout history theologians (such as Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm, and Abelard) have developed various ways of explaining the atonement, ways that have emphasized differing New Testament images regarding the meaning of Christ’s death. On the basis of various scriptural passages, these theologians have described how Christ’s death on the cross has brought about victory over the devil, deliverance from death, the forgiveness of sins, rescue from God’s wrath for sin, and the transformation of God’s enemies into friends. Many scriptural texts regarding the significance of Christ’s death in brief, terse language, so that various theologians sought to flesh out or explain these passages in greater detail. For example, since Mark’s statement that Christ (“the Son of Man”) gave “his life as a ransom” (10:45) is exceedingly brief, theologians speculated regarding who was paid this ransom (God or the devil?), what were humans ransomed from, and exactly what sort of transaction was made that brought about this liberation.  Without engaging such detailed and sometimes fanciful theories of theological explanation or speculation here, we can consider what the New Testament itself says regarding the meaning of Christ’s death. A survey of such passages will illustrate the wide spectrum of ways in which Christ’s death has benefitted us.

 Christ’s death means:

  • Victory over the devil: “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities (likely referring to evil powers in league with the devil) and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it [the cross]” (Colossians 2:15).
  • The defeat of death: Besides the verses just quoted from Hebrews 2, a somewhat enigmatic passage from Matthew describes how the dead were raised at the moment of Jesus’s death, indicating that the defeat of death is part of what God accomplished through the death of his Son. When Jesus dies, “The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” (Matthew 27:52)
  • The forgiveness of sins: “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7).  “[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). When Jesus institutes the Lord’s supper, he reinterprets the wine from the Passover meal in terms of the shedding of his blood.  Concerning the wine Jesus says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:29). This suggests (or means) that Christ’s shed blood on the cross provides for the forgiveness of our sins.
  • Deliverance from slavery to sin: “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Peter 1:18-19). “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).
  • Deliverance from the wrath of God: “Much more surely, then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9)
  • Transformation from enemies of God to the friends of God: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10) “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ . . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him”(Colossians 1:21-22).
  • The knowledge of God’s love toward us: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The atoning effect of Christ’s death is sometimes stated without an explicit explanation of what this effect may be. For example, Romans 3:25 refers to Christ as the one “God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood . . . .” Interestingly, though, the Greek term for “sacrifice of atonement” here (hilasterion) is the word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the “mercy seat” in the temple. As the Old testament explains, once a year on the Day of Atonement animal blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat on top of the arc of the covenant in the Jerusalem temple in order to make atonement for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). According to Paul in Romans 3, the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross has become, as it were, a new day of atonement, (Rom. 3:25), presumably indicating that Christ’s blood is the means by which our sins are atoned for. Leviticus says this of the Day of Atonement: “For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the LORD” (16:30). Now Christ’s death makes it possible for us to be cleansed of all our sins.

Meditation: Which aspect of the New Testament explanation of the atonement most appeals to you, and why? Which passage of scripture do you wish to especially focus on today as you meditate on the meaning of Christ’s passion?

Prayer: Thank you, O God, for the salvation you have accomplished through the death of your Son upon the cross. Help me today to grain new insight into the meaning of his death in my own life.  Amen.