Foreshadowing the City [a photo sermon]


For those new to  the blog: occasionally, I try and write a “photo sermon” based on the themes of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is “Foreshadow“.

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Foreshadowing is a huge part of the Christian faith. The opening words of the Bible offer us the problem that the rest of the book will explore a solution to. It says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” From the beginning, “heaven” and “earth” are two different things, in two different “places”. God intends to bring them together and make them one. How will he do it? The book invites us to read on.

Continually we see hints of this throughout the Scriptures. Noah’s Ark rests on top or Ararat “on the 17th day of the seventh month.” For a people that take numbers so seriously, 17 is kind of a weird number. But, years later, three days after dying on the 14th day of the two-week festival of Passover (which takes place in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar), a New Ark will rise from the depths of death with the light of a new humanity within him.

This whole event is marked by a “bow” placed in the sky. Hebrew has a perfectly good word for “rainbow”. This is not the word used here. Rather, it’s the word for a military “bow”. And it’s pointed upwards. A foreshadow of a God who will no longer pour his full wrath down on his creation, but rather upwards on himself.

My favorite: Hebrew interpreters have pondered for millennia about why the opening word of the Hebrew Bible begins with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and not the first (bara, for “create”). (Yes, seriously. This is how seriously they take their Bible.)

But to Christians this makes sense. This sort of thing is all over the Old Testament, most clearly in the sons of the promise. We all know that the covenantal promises of God went through the firstborn son, right? And yet, look at Jesus’ family line (this is from my Bible Survey class notes, by the way):

Cain wasn’t the firstborn of Adam, Noah wasn’t the firstborn of Lamech, Isaac wasn’t the firstborn of Abraham, Jacob wasn’t first of Isaac, Judah wasn’t the first of Jacob, Perez wasn’t first of Judah, and though Boaz was his firstborn, Boaz was the second husband of Ruth who gave birth to Obed, then Jesse, but David wasn’t firstborn of Jesse, and Solomon wasn’t David’s first, and so on and so forth.

Throughout Israel’s history, there is a strong theme of the “second” becoming the “first”, and the Covenant going through them. This hearkens to the fact that the Promise was supposed to pass through the first Adam, but in his failure, it is then taken up by the “second Adam”–Jesus–to fulfill this promise and pass it on to all the world.

And ultimately that Jesus comes. He fulfills all the foreshadowing throughout the ancient Scriptures and shows that he is the one to whom they were pointing all the time.

(A quick note to all the skeptics out there, by the way: there are two problems with simply saying “well the New Testament writers shaped their writing to fit the Old testament!” (1) There are far too many of these foreshadowings and “types” throughout the Old Testament that the New Testament writers don’t even mention or seem to be referencing. They don’t come close to scratching the surface of these “types” in their writings. (2) If Christianity is correct, then these types of foreshadowing is exactly what one would expect! You can’t deride the New Testament connections as fabrications when this is exactly what one would see if it were true. Do you really expect that if there was a God with a plan in motion, there wouldn’t be this type of foreshadowing? If there wasn’t, would you not then simply ridicule it for that?)

And so, with the coming of Christ, all foreshadowing is done, right? Well, it seems not. He talks cryptically in “eschatological” terms–referring to the end of all things. He tells us what this World To Come will be like and then acts as if he’s living there now. He heals people in the present in the same way that all people will be healed in the future. He seems to imply there is still more to come to this whole story of redemption–this process of making all things new.

And then, in a move that the book of Hebrews seems to find significant, he’s taken outside of the city of God’s people and crucified.

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. (13:11-13)

And now we see what all of Jesus’ foreshadowing was about. We see the hopeful foreshadows that he has entrusted to us to continue:

For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (v.14)

And this is what the photo above beautifully reminds me of: the City to come. The story of redemption begins in a garden and end in a city. The City of God is that picture of God’s restoration and healing brought into the world. But we don’t live there. Right now, we live in the City of Humanity.

In the next couple of weeks, I (re)start seminary. I’m trying to get a head start on my reading, and this program–these readings–have a heavy emphasis on Christians in the city. This is because there is a long Christian tradition (until the past 100 years or so) of God’ people serving cities, as they are the most concentrated places of that (and those) which (and whom) Christians are called most to serve, love, and be among–the broken, the poor, and those ravaged by injustice, both personal and institutional.

And we do this primarily by “foreshadowing” the City to Come in the midst of city that is. And we do this wherever we are. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my girlfriend, it’s that Nature and rural communities embody the hope and need of the Gospel just as much as urban areas. The “City” I refer to isn’t necessarily “urban”. It’s global. At the end of all things, the world becomes the City of God–the global community of God’s redeemed, healed, and chosen People and Creation.

Even on this side of the Cross, there is much foreshadowing to be done. We must live and work hard to know well this City to Come, its Lord, and its rhythm, so that we might bring that City into the present, proclaim its Lord, and live in the flourishing of that City. What does this look like? Hebrews continues its passage and tells us:

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (vv.15-16)

And this is hard. After all, the passage stills calls these things a “sacrifice”. As the photo above of Philadelphia displays, this world is moving so quickly and in so many directions, most of which are away from the City. But this picture also reminds us that the City is secure, it’s stable, and it’s beautiful. All other ways of living are “blurry” (if you’ll let me stretch the photo analogy). The only things sure and clear are the City, and the path there.

And so we do this in hope, because, if Jesus shows us anything, it’s that “mere” foreshadowing, done in the name of God, must become reality. And it will.

Let us love well and love faithfully, though it be difficult. Let us bring the future world into the present, living now as citizens of a world that is not yet. Let us go in peace, encouragement, and strength, to love and serve the Lord and his World.

See my past Weekly Photo Challenges & Photo Sermons here.


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