Run the Mile You are In.

I’m training for a marathon. Well . . . nearer on the horizon, I’m training for a half marathon. For the past 11 weeks I’ve been doing a half-marathon training program with Katie Barrett I discovered on Audible (with some minor tweaks). Next week Saturday, I am headed to Eugene, Oregon for the Eugene Holiday Half. This will be the longest race I’ve run to date. I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I still expect to finish this in 2 and a half hours. And I hope it will be fun.

I start each Advent by reflecting on the meaning of the season, that we are waiting, and what we are waiting for isn’t here yet. The way Israel waited through their long exile, we wait for the return of the reigning Christ, when war, predation, suffering and grief will cease and we shall experience the renewal of all things. I believe practicing Advent means being dissatisfied with where we are, and being shaped by hope of what’s to come.

But guess what? Our world is not at peace. We are at war, there are mass-shooters that attack public spaces. Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia are thriving, affecting vulnerable people in our society and in the world. And then there are broken relationships and betrayals, financial worries, discomforting diagnoses, and painful losses. The Advent of Christ feels a long way off.

Eric Liddell.jpg
Eric Liddell, OG Muscular Christian

When I started training for my half marathon, I committed to running four times a week, stretching, fueling my body appropriately and building in time for recovery. Twelve weeks later, I’m in better shape and better prepared to run. Because I’ve been training with an audible program, I’ve had a constant voice in my ear during my runs, reminding me to work on my form and stretch out my stride. I am coached when to push and when to run easy. At different times in my training program, I am coached to picture myself in my last mile, pushing as hard as I can. And at other times the exhortation is simpler: run the mile I am in.

So we celebrate Advent in the strong hope of God’s coming to us in Christ. But just as the Isaiah passage from Sunday exhorted Israel, “Come, descendants of Jacob,let us walk in the light of the Lord”(Isaiah 2:5). Isaiah shared a vision of the coming of God when swords are beat into plowshares and all the peoples of the world come to learn the ways of YHWH (Isaiah 2:1-4) and then exhorts his hearers to walk in the light of the Lord. The grand goal of worldwide shalom and communion with God, and the exhortation: run the mile you are in. Walk now in light of the things to come

How do we practice Advent in a way that both keeps our eye on the finish line, and with awareness of where we are, run the mile we are in? What are the practices which help us prepare well for the coming of Christ?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Light candles. A lot of our churches have Advent wreaths which count down the Sundays before Christmas. Our family also has a home wreath, which I haven’t unearthed yet. This is great mindful way to practice advent. The warmth and light of the Advent candles are a visceral and visual reminder of the way light dispels darkness. Just lighting the candles is a ritual of hope.

2. Sing songs. Some cranky liturgists and young preachers will tell you that this is not the time for Christmas carols. We are in a season of waiting and longing, and the joy of Christmas is coming. This is bosh. Mary sang (Luke 1:46-55). Yes there is pain, and longing and dissatisfaction. Yes, there is the ache of the already but not quite yet. But there is also wonder and awe, and joyful anticipation. If singing ignites and keeps hope alive. Sing. Sing loud, off key and exuberantly. Sing of the things to come. When people smile when they are running, they can run farther.

3.Do Justice. Part of our Advent hope in the coming of Christ, is that justice and peace will reign when he comes. Part of running the mile we are in, is find ways to press into God’s peace and justice now. Is there an issue facing your community which you can address? Are ways we can promote peace now? Who, of your neighbors is facing injustice? Can we do something about it? This is walking in the light of what’s to come. This is running the mile we are in.

4. Welcome. When Jesus comes everyone is welcome. We are talking kings and shepherds, women and men, Jews and Gentiles, young children and old saints—people of every tongue, tribe and nation. The radical inclusivity of God’s kingdom is coming! What are ways we can practice inclusion and welcome now? Who can you show hospitality to? Is there someone you can invite over for dinner? Is there someone you know, who feels alone and excluded that you can invite along with you where you are going? Do you know someone who needs you to run along aside them for a while?

Jesus came, Jesus comes, Jesus is coming. Our Advent hope is sure, and in our hearts we can picture the finish line. These are just a few suggestions of how we can run now, the mile we are in, as we prepare for the Day ahead. How do you practice Advent?

Suffering Servant and the Good News: a book review

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser

The prophet Isaiah has long been mined by Christian interpreters of the Bible for its Christological significance. This is especially true of the ‘Suffering Servant’ passages from the latter part of Isaiah. In this multi-author volume edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser, examines Isaiah 53 in light of the gospel with an eye towards how this passage can bring Jewish people to faith in Jesus Christ. Despite Isaiah’s status as a Jewish prophet and his prominence among Christian interpreters, this passage is almost unknown among Jewish people. Written to pastors, missionaries and lay leaders, this book is intended as a resource for those who are ‘preaching  and teaching this profound passage and using it to reach unbelievers with a message of redemption (28)’.

The book is organized into three parts. Part one discusses the various interpretations of Isaiah 53. Richard Averbeck surveys Christian interpretations of this chapter (focusing especially on contemporary interpreters). Having examined the competing views, Averbeck argues that the first-person language does not imply the personification of the nation of Israel but one person acting on behalf of the nation.  Michael L. Brown discusses the history of Jewish interpretations of this chapter (showing how the corporate interpretation has often been posited to obscure the messianic implications and how this chapter points to Jesus).

In part two,  Isaiah 53 is placed within a biblical-theological framework. Walter Kaiser argues that the Servant language in Isaiah 53 should be read as a messianic designation and that Jesus understood his ministry in this context.  Michael Wilkins examines the gospel accounts, concluding that Jesus saw himself as the Servant, and the gospel writers also made this identification. Darrell Bock examines Acts 8 (Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch) and how Isaiah 53 in that context, illuminates Jesus’ death.  Craig Evans discusses allusions to Isaiah 53 in the New Testament material from Peter, Paul, John and the book of Hebrews.  David Allen’s chapter sets Isaiah 53 within a cultic context and argues for the significance of substiutionary atonement in understanding the passage. Robert Chisholm rounds out part two by discussing salvation and forgiveness in this chapter and arguing that according to this passage, the beneficiaries of  the Servant’s suffering are both Israel and the nations, that the ‘illness’ described in the chapter imply Jerusalem’s destruction, exile, injustice, death and war, that the breach of the covenant is the fundamental sin for which the blameless Servant suffers,  and that the Servant’s suffering and death provide the means toward divine forgiveness.

Part three addresses how to communicate this passage evangelistically. John Feinberg discusses how Isaiah 53 can be used to articulate the gospel message to ‘postmoderns.’  Mitch Glasser focuses his chapter on how Isaiah 53 can be used effectively in Jewish evangelism (his point is not to debate, or beat Jews over the head with a proof text, but using this chapter to open up a fruitful dialogue). Lastly, Donald Sunukjian gives practical advice to preachers for preaching an expository message based on this chapter (with an eye towards it’s structure).  Each of the chapters of the book are summarized in Darrell Bock’s conclusion (and quoted extensively) and the book also includes in the appendices two sermons from Donald Sunukjian which illustrate a couple of different homiletic approaches to the text.

As is the case with other multi-author studies, there is some overlap in chapter content; however the authors are remarkably united in purpose and theological commitments. These are some of the best and brightest of conservative Biblical scholars and they thoroughly examine this passage in light of historical interpretation, biblical theology, literary structure, and linguistically. You need not agree with the authors on every point (I’m not sure that I do) to appreciate the care and attention in which they craft their argument. I think they make a good case that a individual, substitutionary, Suffering Servant reading of the text, is faithful understanding of the text, and that this passage does point to the significance of Jesus’ work.

But what I appreciate most about this book is the compelling case made here, that Jesus understood his life, ministry and death in light of the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. Scot McKnight, in the King Jesus Gospel made the provocative claim that many evangelistic presentations by evangelicals completely ignore the Old Testament in their articulation of the gospel.  In The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, the authors prove that for these scholars at least, this is not the case. The gospel of Jesus Christ includes the way Jesus fulfills the hopes of Israel.  By seeing the significance of this passage for Jewish people, we gentiles also come to a fuller appreciation of the gospel story and Christ’s work.

So I recommend this book to pastors and teachers who want to communicate the truths of this passage. I certainly plan to refer back to this book in my preaching and teaching from this passage.

I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for this review.