Amarillo skyline paintings and sketch.

These were part of a larger project celebrating Advent at our church and illustrating passages out of Isaiah. These paintings were meant to illustrate Isaiah 1 and Isaiah 29, but I chose my hometown of Amarillo as the subject instead of Jerusalem. I love our city.

At some point, I’ll write a note about the group of people who contributed to the whole project. They have been an unexpected source of joy these past few months and we are grateful to call them friends; grateful to see His love being perfected in us.

The Baker and the Cupbearer

(Rudiments of reading)

Simply as a piece of literature, the Holy Bible is a remarkable feat. Many different authors writing many different genres across many different geographical locations and thousands of years anthologized into an unbelievably consistent and unified work of literature. Contained in each smaller narrative are layers that point to a much larger narrative – what the New Testament writers called the Gospel –

God creates and then enjoys the good creation. Man, one part of the creation made in the likeness of God, for a time cultivates and enjoys the creation in a paradise called Eden, but chooses to love something other than God and falls out of relationship with Him and is sent out of the paradise to toil. Man makes many attempts to fabricate an Eden of his own out of the creation that he now worships, but is frustrated over and over. God, however, sets in motion a history that will eventually redeem, rather than remake, all of the fallen creation by sending His Son, fully God, to become fully a Man, to begin a new lineage of mankind that will rejoin the relationship of man and God. 

The story suffers an injustice when reduced to a few italicized sentences of exposition. It’s worth approaching the stories the same way one approaches a novel; generously  entering the rules of the story and experiencing what the author set out to do. Not so much to reduce it to its logical parts, but more to be altered, at a love level, by the story.

However, I’d like to see how intricately each of the stories are twined together, so I’ll take a few sample narratives and see how they might be intended to tell one story – across genres, history, authors, socioeconomics, geography, politics, etc. – how God can be seen as an author wielding a pen of history and mens’ lives, breathing life into the stories so they become devastating (and redemptive) portraits of ourselves, the readers.

The Story

In Genesis 39-41, Joseph, sold into slavery, is wrongfully accused by his master’s wife. Joseph is innocent, but is thrown into jail, or the pit as the language asserts. While there, two servants of Pharaoh, a cupbearer and a baker, offend the king and are thrown into the pit with Joseph. The cupbearer serves the king wine. The baker serves the king bread. (There is an obvious connection to the communion, which won’t even be established in the narrative for another 400 years.

Both servants have bizarre dreams that upset them, and Joseph (a dreamer himself) offers to interpret the dreams for them, a mystical service in those times. 

The Cupbearer’s Dream

“In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the up in Pharaoh’s hand.” Joseph’s interpretation: The three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer.“ 

So there is wine. The cupbearer is a guilty man who is restored to his former office.

The Baker’s Dream

"There were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” Joseph’s interpretation: “The three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head – from you! – and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”

So there is bread. The baker is a guilty man whose body is broken and hanged on a tree.

Sorrow and Celebration

This narrative pretty clearly foreshadows the Cross; wine, bread, blood, body, restoration, three days, the threads are all there. The story of the Cross bears in it both Sorrow and Celebration. First, the devastating truth of our reality: we are hopeless, putting to death God Himself in His great act of mercy on us. But we also have cause to celebrate, in that in our hopelessness we have the hope of Christ, who in His mercy saved us from death. The Baker and the Cupbearer, or Christ on the Cross, are pictures of repentance and salvation at the same time. The condition of humanity is to bear both sorrow at our state, and celebration of a future hope.

Twining the Stories

 Joseph’s story is found in Genesis, which as a genre straddles between myth and history book. I’ll pull the wine thread from Joseph’s story and jump ahead to the book of Proverbs, which is a book of wisdom literature written by several different authors intended to be used for instruction. In Chapter 31, there is a brief exhortation from a mother to her son, King Lemuel. It’s interesting that Lemuel doesn’t figure into Israel’s history anywhere. This is the only mention of him in the entire Bible. So, I suppose, the authors don’t have a problem lifting from other cultures – truth is truth, as it were. 

Lemuel’s mother seems to shotgun her son with advice, from whorish women to alcohol to governing to virtuous women. In one sentence she says, “It’s not for kings to drink wine, lest they pervert the rights of the afflicted.” The next sentence she says, “Give wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more." 

Aside from the fact that it seems like odd advice, she goes on to exhort Lemuel to defend the rights of the needy and be equitable. So the heart of the verse isn’t a moral statement about alcohol abuse, but rather to be charitable and a defender of the destitute. It’s just interesting that wine is the prescription for poverty.

Let’s keep pulling the wine thread from Joseph and Lemuel, and now the poverty thread and see how they entwine in the person of Jesus Christ. When we get to the New Testament, we find Jesus, whom John calls the "Word become flesh”; all of the narratives become a man. This man is found teaching a sermon on the Mount of Olives famously called the Beatitudes, a series of proverbs. 

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus pulls on the poverty thread here, except it’s not a physical poverty He speaks of, but rather a spiritual one. I think Jesus is emphasizing the spiritual state that people find themselves in – the true condition of mankind – is down in the pit. Some people refuse to see it. But those who do must be in utter despair because just like those in physical poverty, they don’t have the means to overcome their destitution.

What is their prescription? Lemuel’s mother said, “Give them wine so they forget their misery.” But she was speaking of physical misery.

At the end of Jesus’ life, He sits down with his friends and has a meal with them. They break bread, which He says is His body that is going to die. And then He takes a cup of wine and says,

Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.“

He prescribes wine for spiritual poverty. Then He died, a broken body hanging on a tree, the dissolution of flesh. And His blood was spilled for the forgiveness of sins so that men might drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

The baker and the cupbearer. The sorrow and the celebration. The bread and the wine. The poverty of the fall and the riches of the kingdom of heaven. One story being told across thousands of years, genres, authors, and maps, drawing from disparate cultures, having heroes with terrible moral failures, and even including the reader into the narrative as both a hero and a villain. If it is simply a piece of literature, it is a marvelous one.

Romans 1:15-20 – I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome… For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. FOR HIS INVISIBLE ATTRIBUTES, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, HAVE BEEN CLEARLY PERCEIVED, ever since the creation of the world, IN THE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE.

Life is a chaotic tide of experience.  It would be a nearly impossible task to record in any order all of the physical and emotional experiences you have in a single hour, much less your lifetime.  One of the major functions of art is to examine the seeming chaos of life and to discern the patterns and rhythms and then to create a narrative order that would lead a person to find meaning in their own chaos; to order an unordered fallen creation.

The goal of the artist should be to render the things that have been made in such a way that the invisible attributes of God would be clearly perceived.  As N.T. Wright states it, art should “come to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of resurrection”; art ought to recognize the patterns, rhythms and cadence in the wounds of the world, and offer a promise, in its own beauty and naming of Christ, of a new creation where the tears are wiped away. Art ought to be eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome.

I Have Not Hidden Your Deliverance

Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden Your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I have not concealed Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness from the congregation. – Psalm 40

Directly before this passage, the psalmist says that God does not delight in sin offerings; He does not require offerings for our sins.  But instead of requiring sin offerings, He offers us an open ear to hear our cries.  So far, nothing has been required of us.

Because of God’s inclination to hear the psalmist’s plea for deliverance, the psalmist turns and says, “O my God, I delight to do Your will.”  And then he proceeds to tell us what God’s will looks like:

Telling the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation.

Remembering God’s faithfulness, His salvation, His deliverance, His steadfast love, His wondrous deeds and thoughts toward us, and then telling the great congregation of people about it.

Friends, God has not restrained his mercy from me!

Psalm 37:25-26

I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.

He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.

 I usually read this as an encouragement to pursue righteousness because then I won’t be forsaken or have to beg for bread.  I don’t want to be forsaken by anybody, especially God.

But Jesus, the most righteous person who ever lived, was explicitly forsaken by God. That is straight up contradictory. Why?

God lends generously.  In fact, He is so generous that He gave His only Son, a son who became a blessing to those beggars who faced an insurmountable debt (namely us).  We were begging for sustenance, and He gave us everlasting bread, the broken body of His Son, that satisfies all hunger.  We are also invited to become the children of the Righteous One.

Is the same expected of us? Sure the righteous are not forsaken (our righteousness is because of Christ), but we are to lend generously – perhaps even our lives – so that other children may come to know the Righteous One; we are to become a blessing.

Whether In Pretense or In Truth

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. – Philippians 1:15-18

This boggles my brain. Paul’s entire ambition was the proclamation of the gospel (God created man, man fell, man spent thousands of years trying to get back to “god”, God sent His Son to fix the mess).  Paul was not concerned with his reputation.  Paul was not even concerned that he would be vindicated eventually from bogus charges, neither in life nor death (gah! another bogglement – take that people who seek martyrdom).  His ambition was just to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Even when he saw people doing it with wrong motivations, which apparently the Philippians had reported to him, he was so unattached to his reputation and the “method” that he rejoiced simply in the fact that Christ was being proclaimed.

With that I rejoice for the guy on 45th & Bell proclaiming Christ to people with their windows up and their radios on. How many times have I called that guy a fool?  (Of course, I also pray that his love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment – Phil. 1:9)

Every day I am more and more convinced that there is nothing beyond Christ and Him crucified.