Fourth Sunday of Advent Reflection- Sunday, December 22, 2019 CBByrd
Just pondering…… Tossing, turning, and experiencing a stomach ache last night, I found myself awake and uncomfortable. But something else had discomfited me, too….. some wandering thoughts as my brain processed its “stuff to remember” into permanent storage in my neurons reminded me that in a reflection on Luke 1 recently I had written about Elizabeth and Zacharias. In the night my mind seemed to ask me, “Is that who you meant?” So, since I was getting up anyway, I got online, found the reflection in my weblog, double checked names in the Bible and realized I had substituted “Zacharias” for “Zechariah” in that reflection. It was consistent throughout the entire reflection and I wound up updating the reflection again and again as I discovered yet another misspelling of the name of the priest and father of John the Baptist.
I read the daily devotional of Ravi Zacharias Ministries often. Jill Carattini, one of their writers, is a favorite of mine. I have known the difference between “Zachariah”, one of the kings of Israel, and “Zechariah”, John the Baptist’s father (among roughly thirty others in the Bible sharing that common name) since church lessons of my youth. The fact that I wrote “Zacharias” at least 8 times when I intended to write “Zechariah” suggests to me that an auto-correct mode, either in my own brain or in one of several electronic instruments that I use in writing, overrode my intention more than once.
So, having thoroughly confused myself as I attempted to correct all the “Zacharias” references in the Luke reflection post to “Zechariah” in the wee hours of the morning, I decided I needed to double back and review them in a Bible dictionary I have had since 1967 or 1968. It was published as a special crusade edition by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and was given to me at a viewing of a Billy Graham movie, Two A Penny, as I recall. It has been a part of my Bible study tools since that time. And lo and behold, I discovered…… or was reminded again….. of these distinguishing facts.
Zacharias” (meaning God Has Remembered) and “Zechariah” (God Remembers) are two ways of writing the same name and both may be used to reference the temple priest who was husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist.
So, in attempting to be faithful and accurate in writing and teaching and returning to my work to correct what I thought had been an error, I found that it was, insignificantly, “the same difference”! One translation offers one name; another translation uses the other. But they refer to the same person.
How often do we quibble over what John Wesley would call “non-essentials” in discussing theological points that may be little more than “the same kind of difference”? In the case of “Zacharias” and “Zechariah” two letters changed in a name are more a matter of preference and common practice and less a matter for debate. Both speak to the same attribute of God’s steadfast recollection but with only a slight change in tense- present or present perfect. And since God is timeless, such a distinction ultimately means nothing.
In other theological discussions, a single letter can make all the difference in the world….as in the divisive conflict of the 4th century church between those who followed the reason of Arius or Athanasius. Arius got into a dispute with the Bishop Alexandria over the Bishop’s teaching on the unity of the Trinity and the nature of Jesus Christ.
Arius denied the full deity of the preexistent Son of God, undermining the concept of a Triune Godhead. He believed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was not co-eternal and consubstantial with His Father, but rather a created being with a definite origin in time in the same manner as other created beings, angels and humans. In Arius’ words, “Wherefore he is as to his nature mutable and susceptible of change, as all other rational creatures are.” The word to describe that condition of being is homoiousios, meaning “of a similar essence” in speaking of the relationship between God and Christ.
Athanasius defended the church’s position that Jesus Christ is homoousios “of the same essence”, the Word made flesh who was begotten, not created.
The Roman emperor Constantine the Great, in attempting to restore peace and unity to the Church, called upon Arius and Alexander to settle their dispute. The issue was such that no compromise was possible. The debate raged between supporters of each position until the emperor called a great council of all Church bishops to resolve the dilemma. This First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicea in 325, was led in its teachings by Athanasius, at the time a mere deacon in the Alexandrian church. The council condemned Arianism and maintained that Christ was “God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God, begotten not made (not created), and One in essence with the Father.” homoousios/ομοούσιος “of the same essence” rather than Arius’ heretical homoiousios/ομοιούσιος “of a similar essence”.
The Council of Nicea incorporated these words into the first version of the Nicene Creed. But the debate continued until well into the 7th century. Ultimately, the remnants of Arian’s followers splintered into several smaller sects, some carrying along with them additional heretical beliefs about Jesus Christ like denial of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Such sects that diminish the divinity of Jesus Christ, denying the Triune co-eternal and co-equal nature of the Godhead still exist in groups like Mormons (LDS), Jehovah Witnesses, and some groups within modern Protestantism. (reference – https://orthodoxwiki.org/Arianism)
How do we resolve such religious disputes and determine how significant such differences truly are? I look to the Bible itself for the answers.
Jesus says, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Jesus is clear that the Law will accomplish that for which it was intended and will be the measure for judgment until it secures all that it was intended to secure. Jesus gives us assurance that dependence upon the Letter of the Law will continue to be the standard for righteousness until God’s redemptive will is completed, until the “end time”. At that point, when love has been perfected and evil has been defeated, when fear is banished, when all that remains is under the authority and good will of God, the Letter of the Law will have been fulfilled. When the Letter of the Law is fulfilled and evil defeated, what remains is the Spirit of the Law…. The Spirit of Truth, God’s own Holy Spirit, the Wonderful Counselor, the Incarnate Christ that remains in the hearts of people and by which the perfect intentional ordained will of God is seen as the virtues of God known and lived out in the hearts of people who know, love, admonish, serve, and celebrate the Life of Christ within one another. While this “end time” has generally been interpreted in light of some future chronological time when heaven and earth literally disappear in the midst of a cataclysmic apocalypse, many clues point to a stealthy, silent coming that is defined by a “fullness of time” kairos when eyes are suddenly opened to the reality of Christ’s ministry, mission, and the majestic fullness of grace and truth that is increasingly observed in his followers as they are sanctified by his coming alive in their heart, soul, mind, and strength. One must have a mind transformed and able to think with eye, ear, and heart fixed on eternity, from God’s perspective, instead of the here and now of human existence alone.
“ Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” These words were spoken by Moses as he delivered the Ten Commandments to the people and began teaching them that obedience of God’s people would be required. As is the case with any “rule—based” standard of orthopraxy, there can never be enough rules to cover every situation. As the Hebrew nation developed and the institutions of government and religion expanded, the burdensome weight of added laws and interpretations and clarifications became the enslaving Law which must be kept fully to attain salvation. The Pharisees and Scribes held the people accountable to the strict letter of the Law that included 613 civil, ceremonial, or moral laws, not merely the Ten Commandments. In contrast, the spirit of the Law was the God-given underpinning of virtuous thinking and conduct based on the character of God himself and was intended to bring the people of God into righteous fellowship with The Holy, Holy, Holy Lord in a world marred by sin. The “until everything is accomplished” kairos time that Christ spoke about in Matthew 5:18 is, I believe, defined by the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The time before this time-dividing event in history was defined by the Letter of the Law. However, since the events of Jesus Christ’s incarnation of God among us, we have been freed from the binding constraints of The Letter of the Law and are, since then, free to live into the light and easy yoke of Jesus Christ whose compassion, strength, and mercy have liberated all who believe in him.
“ I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” The prophecy of Jesus Christ penned by John, the Beloved Disciple, contains a variety of symbolic and mysterious beasts, events, and numbers. The fulfillment of the prophecies of Revelation will herald the final victory of Christ’s redemptive work, the “End Times,” and provide encouragement and strength to God’s people. Thus, we get a strongly worded caution to protect the prophetic revelation and do not add or subtract anything to it. All that will be needed at that time to recognize and proclaim the truth will be revealed according to God’s purpose and plan.
So, in disputes over the practice of our faith we must remain faithful to what is proclaimed within the Bible itself, not taking liberties that are not warranted by a careful reading of the whole text and with attention to Christ’s call to be obedient to the Spirit of the Law rather than simply the Letter of the Law.