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Psalm 122

 

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem - built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! "May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!" For my brothers and companions' sake I will say, "Peace be within you!" For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good. (ESV)

Sons of Abraham

Friday of Pentecost 15

26 September 2014

Many American Christians suffer from a kind of biblical amnesia that leads them to identify the state of modern Israel as the chosen people of God of which the Bible speaks. People in lofty political circles on both sides of the aisle make this identification in an absolute way, so that it is the bound Christian duty of the United States as a nation to support the state of Israel. If we support the modern state of Israel, such people claim that the United States will be heirs to the promise of God to Abram: "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gn 12:3). While Israel as a nation may deserve our support as a representative democracy, this unabashed Zionism is bad politics and worse theology.

 

I am not arguing against supporting Israel, I am simply denying that there is a theological basis for such support. Politically, the affairs of nations must be governed by the Realpolitik of national self-interest. Politicians should arrange foreign relations to the best benefit of the people who elected them to office. This is the only rational basis for international relations. Support for the modern nation of Israel may be in our best interests, but we need to continue to make that case, or if the theological consensus dissolves for that support we may find it difficult to martial support for Israel on a Realpolitik, rational basis.

 

What is the case against supporting Israel as a theological necessity?  The case is driven by the Bible's teaching on law and gospel. How do sinners come into the church? They come into God's community, the church, by grace through faith in the merit of Christ, the only Savior from sin. "His name is the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Those who are Christians are Christians because God has called them by the holy gospel. He does not call them on the basis of their own merits, least of all merits tied to an earthly birth. God is not interested in your pedigree according to the flesh. The apostle Paul is adamant that there is neither Jew nor Greek and that God is no respecter of persons. In fact, He claims that Peter erred when he drew away from Gentile believers under pressure from the Judaizers and He chided Peter saying, "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Gal 2:15-16). Justification before God is through faith in Christ so that it is equally by grace, whether to the Jew or to the Gentile. Those who are saved are saved by the grace of Christ whom believers confess as the true Messiah. So for Paul, genetics is not the basis for salvation and therefore membership in the church. There is nothing meritorious about being in the physical lineage of Abraham if you reject the Lordship of Jesus, the King of the church and her true Messiah.

 

The claim to be heirs of Abraham must not be reduced to genetics, for then wicked and unbelieving King Manasseh, who installed false gods in the Jerusalem temple, would have to be considered a son of Abraham. He did not "rest with his fathers" after his long unbelieving life. Again the Apostle Paul, who is Hebrew of Hebrews, summarized the Christian teaching so beautifully: "If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Gal 3:29). We are heirs not according to birth, but heirs according to rebirth. We are Abraham's offspring because we share the same hope that Abraham had who desired to see the day of the Messiah. We have seen that day and believed that is what makes us sons of Abraham. Those who do not believe the Messiah is Jesus are not sons of Abraham. The covenant of Abraham has been transferred to the church as the true kingdom of Christ, the Messiah. We who have that King as our Lord are now the true people of God. Those who do not have Jesus as King are not the true people of God. This shows that being an heir of the kingdom is by grace not by works, not by birth but by being born again of water and spirit. Jesus says to Nicodemus, a son of Abraham by birth and a Pharisee by work: "You must be born again." We must be born of God through the living and active Word of God.

 

Martin Luther

 

"Paul is contrasting the Jerusalem that is above with the earthly Jerusalem, not spatially but spiritually. Spiritual things are distinct from physical or earthly things. Spiritual things are above. Earthly things are below. So Jerusalem above is distinguished from the physical and temporal Jerusalem below, as I have said, not spatially but spiritually. For the spiritual Jerusalem, which began in the physical Jerusalem, has no prescribed location, as the one in Judea does; but it is scattered throughout the whole world and can be in Babylonia, Turkey, Tartary, Scythia, India, Italy, or Germany, on the islands of the sea, on mountains, in valleys, and everywhere on the earth where there are men who have the gospel and believe in Christ.

 

"Therefore Sarah, or Jerusalem, our free mother, is the church, the bride of Christ who gives birth to all. She goes on giving birth to free men without interruption until the end of the world, as long as she exercises the ministry of the Word, that is, as long as she preaches and propagates the Gospel; for this is to give birth. Now she teaches the gospel in such a way that we are freed from the curse of the law, from sin, death, and other evils, not through the law and works but through Christ. Therefore the Jerusalem above, that is, the church, is not subject to the law and works; but she is free and is a mother without law, sin, or death. And as the mother is, so are the sons whom she bears."


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.26
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, show us that You are King of Israel and that You reign and rule over Your church, not by law and birth, but by the gospel and rebirth. Amen.

 

For President Harrison of the LCMS, that the Lord would strengthen him in his endeavors

 

For Hannah Graham, that she might be found and has come to no harm

 

For all those who are shut in, that they would continue to be cared for and supported by their friends and family

Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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