Christianity 201

July 2, 2020

Building for the Storms: A Reflection on Matthew 7:24-29

by Clarke Dixon

What do we do when the storms of life are raging against us, threatening to beat us down and knock us off our feet? The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like that for many while for others it might be concern over health, work, relationships, or stress levels. What do we do when we face the biggest of all storms, the one that really does knock us down, when death draws close? Jesus speaks about storms. Let’s listen in:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

If we are wise, we will “hear my words and act on them.” Then we will be like the wise person who built a house upon rock, a house with a solid foundation that could withstand the storms.

That could be the end of the sermon right there. Except that we tend go in one of two directions and so end up as unwise builders.

The first bad turn is to make our lives merely about following the rules. We might hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” then be tempted to go through all the words of Jesus, to write up a comprehensive list of his rules.

Since Jesus is concluding his “Sermon on the Mount” here, let us go back and consider again what Jesus has been saying up to this point.

Let us consider an example from earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

We might add to our list of rules, “do not get angry with people” and move on. But that misses the point. Jesus is pushing us into a deeper righteousness here, a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that is of a better kind, a righteousness of the heart.

Instead of merely keeping a rule about anger, we want to become the kind of people who are not angry, the kind of people who are peaceable and gentle, the kind of people who would never murder. Going further in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of merely keeping a rule about looking at others with lust, or a rule about divorce, we want to become the kind of people who are faithful (5:27-32). Instead of merely keeping rules about oaths we want to become the kind of people who have integrity (5:33-37). Instead of merely following the rules about whom we love or hate, we want to become the kind of people who love like God loves (5:38-48). We want to reflect the character of God. It is about Christlike character.

As we read on in the Jesus’ sermon, we don’t want to merely follow rules about piety, about prayer, fasting, and giving. We want to be the kind of people who develop and demonstrate a deep relationship with God (6:1-24). We do not pray to keep a rule about praying, we pray because prayerfulness is part and parcel of a deep and intimate relationship with God. We do not merely follow a rule about not worrying, we become the kind of people who trust in God, who know Him to be a loving, Heavenly Father (6:25-34).

Jesus stands in contrast to the religious types of his day who were all about the religious rules. He still stands in contrast to many of us religious types today. Jesus was leading people to the heart of God in a way that the scribes and Pharisees were not. When we hear the words of Jesus and act on them, we grow in character.

What do we do when the storms of life hit? It is not what we do, but rather who we are becoming in Christ that gives us the solid foundation. We handle a crisis with things like love, integrity, trust, faithfulness, prayer, and a deep relationship with God. That character will be a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

Let us get into the second way we might take a wrong turn and so not be as prepared for the storms as we might think.

Some Bible scholars think that Jesus is talking about the final judgement when he talks about the great storm that knocks over the foolish man’s house but leaves the wise man’s house standing. Bible teachers are divided on whether that is so, but even if Jesus is not specifically referring to the final judgement here, we can think of that final storm among the many storms we face, the one which really does seem to knock us down for the final time.

We may hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” and think we must be super-obedient to receive eternal life. It’s on us to get this right. We may then begin to worry. We have heard his words, some of us have heard them many, many times, but have we actually acted on them? Have we acted on them well enough? So we worry.

Let us go back and consider again what words Jesus is telling us to hear and act on. One of the things Jesus tells us to do is “do not worry.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

The reason we are to not worry is because God’s got our backs. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we need.

There are many stressed out Christians who wonder “have I done enough to be saved?” No you have not. Neither have I. There are many anxious Christians who wonder “what if I have unconfessed sin when I die?” You will have unconfessed sin when you die. So will I. We all have sin we are not even aware of.

But there is good news!

Having told us to not worry, but instead trust God, and trust that God loves us, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by going to the cross, to take away our sin, all of it. We have not done enough to be saved. God has done enough to save us. We will have unconfessed sin when we die. Jesus died for that sin too.

Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them puts us on a solid foundation ready to face death. What do we do when that final storm rages against us? Again, it is not about what we do, but who we are becoming. We continue being the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people who trust God, in everything. We know He loves us. That is the best foundation for facing life, and for facing death. Yes, a storm may blow through that really does seem to knock us down for the final time. Do not worry. God will pick us up.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and act on them, we will be wise,
like the man who built his house upon rock. That house was ready for the storms. A Jesus shaped, God formed character provides a solid foundation for all the storms that threaten to knock us down, even death. Are you hearing Jesus? Are his words being acted out in your life?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Watch today’s teaching portion at this link. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

June 29, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yesterday our search for devotional sources to highlight took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his blog’s main purpose is “to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it didn’t fit our format. But as I tried and tried to excerpt from it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in two parts, yesterday and today. But if you didn’t yesterday, you’re encouraged to click the header below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

…Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing.

Jesus does not address the problem in this encounter with the Pharisees. Remarkably in the next episode in Mark’s gospel it is a Syrophoenician women—yes, a Gentile—that perceives that Jesus is the at the centre of a game changing solution to this conundrum.

Here we enter someone’s home, the details are left out by Mark. Presumably, this is a house where Jesus has been able to get peace and quiet previously—a safe house. But his effort to get some downtime has not worked. A Syrophoenician woman gate-crashes his rest. This is a bold and desperate move; Gentiles don’t barge into Jewish homes to address a Jewish Rabbi.

It is the hope that Jesus can work a miracle that has driven her to do the unthinkable. She begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her absent daughter, left suffering at home. So far so good, our sensibilities have not been ruffled even if those of polite Jewish society have.

And then we wake up because our Lord and Saviour, our role model for life, the sinless one, the man who has just preached that we are all judged by what comes from our mouths, makes what could be understood as a racial slur. Jesus implies the common label of Gentiles as dogs in what he says to his woman. So offensive is this episode that Luke misses it out of his gospel written to a Gentile audience.

In this tricky saying, Jesus explains that his ministry has been essentially to the Jews, and only in passing to the Gentiles. In this way, Jesus’ ministry is food for the children of Israel, and not food for Gentiles.

Are you feeling uncomfortable? Are we going to have to have take down any statues of Jesus and crosses that commemorate his death and resurrection, in a #SyrophoencianLivesMatter rampage? Is Jesus being racist?

We will of course never know Jesus’ tone, his demeanour, the possible twinkle in his eye when he said these words. What we do know is that despite alluding to the labelling of Gentiles as dogs, standard practice in his culture, his statement elicits the most remarkable response from this woman:

Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

In this brief exchange and based on the knowledge of Jesus that brought her to a strange Jewish house, she has understood what the Pharisees with all their hand-wringing and hand-washing have missed. She has seen that Jesus’ work starts with Jews but is the hope of all humanity. She is pleading that this might begin right here and right now with her daughter. Her faith and courage are rewarded:

Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

This remarkable new understanding of Jesus’ work is the start of Mark’s Gospel revealing that he in his deeds and his person he will address the bigger problem of the heart. Both Jew and Gentile will have the possibility of a circumcised heart as Leviticus puts it.

June 28, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.1. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

Today our searching for devotional sources to highlight here took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it was a little long for our format. But as I tried and tried to edit it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in full in two parts, today and tomorrow. But you’re encouraged to click the title below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

As human beings we have an annoying trait of complicating what God instructs us to do. This is where Mark 7 begins, but not where it ends. At the start of the chapter it is the Pharisees who are complicating God’s instruction. In fact, Jesus will go on to explain they are doing something even worse.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus faces hostility from the religious leaders. It was not just Jesus that the leaders had it in for, Israel had a long tradition of prophets who criticised the status quo and thereby the leaders. In Jesus’ time it was still the case. Many people would announce a new teaching, usually centred on the need for political change. Then they set out to bring truth to power. Some, like Jesus, gave everything in the attempt.

Here, the Pharisees have taken some of God’s instruction (torah) and made an extra burden of tradition to go on top. The Law (torah) required priests to ritually clean their hands. This was an act of grace as it reminded them that when dealing with the Holy God of Israel a clean heart is essential.

Please note that this is not about hand hygiene—though this is the centre of our daily lives at present. As an aside, we might want to have a word with Jesus and his disciples on this count.

The accusation that the disciples have not washed their hands, is a claim that they have not obeyed the extra rules made by the Elders. These rules had been added as a burden on everyone. When you are travelling doing itinerant ministry, is not feasible to carry the necessary dedicated washing cups, pots, and bronze kettles. And Mark’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus liked his disciples to travel light.

Jesus, as a rabbi, is responsible for his disciple’s actions. At this level, the Pharisees are justified in bringing the matter to Jesus. The problem with their case is, however, twofold. Firstly, their motives are dubious. This, however, is not the point that Jesus takes up with them. The second issue is the key one. By focusing on man-made traditions these become a distraction from God himself.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

We must not get self-righteous at this point by spotting what we do without thinking. In my own Baptist tradition, the trinity of words: tradition, doctrine, and ritual are often unspoken and these matters judged as peripheral. We might read what Jesus says about human traditions and then go further than Jesus does.

In quoting from Isaiah, God-sanctioned tradition, Jesus is primarily pointing out that God desires true worship. He wants hearts that are set on him. At the same time, he affirms that doctrine and ritual still have a place. In the New Testament, the disciples and Jesus’ brother, James, affirm both doctrine and ritual. In the case of ritual, we still have cleansing effected baptism, we have Christ’s sacrifice proclaimed in bread and wine, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. All these are mandated by Jesus and/or the testimony of the New Testament.

Our Christian tradition makes it easier to see some things than others. Let us not abandon other commandments of God. And Let us remember that working these out requires a framework of tradition, doctrine and ritual.

Things get worse for the Pharisees as Jesus spells out why he has quoted Isaiah. He suggests that their specific traditions get in the way of God’s commands. He mentions the idea of ‘corban‘ in which something could be set apart for God. The specific issues seem to be that some where giving land and wealth, made ‘corban‘, to the religious leaders. In doing so, some then deprived their parents of the support that was their due in old age, according to the Law.

Then Jesus gets to the revolutionary bit. Jesus’s comments about the human heart, our insides, our outsides, and purity is both great teaching, spells out a bigger problem—a problem for everyone.

With reference to our basic bodily functions, Jesus explains that what we eat cannot make us unclean. This even transforms some of the commandments of the Law. This is a trajectory that enables God’s people to eat screech owl and even pig should they wish to. The repercussions of this took years to work out after Jesus death hence the editorial note in verse 19.

The counterpoint to this is that we know a person’s heart by their fruit. There is that horrible list: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Jesus and the Pharisees are on common ground with this list. They can also agree on its root cause.

Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing…

 

June 23, 2020

Critical Elements of the Jesus Story Supported Without a Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

One of the things that drives seekers and skeptics nuts is when we use the Bible to prove the Bible. To borrow a 2-word phrase from Wikipedia, “citation needed!” They’re looking for outside corroboration of the Bible’s facts.

Many have written on this subject, and I always thought it would be good to have a record of some of those arguments here at C201. This is part of the field known as Christian apologetics.

Branches of this include:

  • experiential arguments
  • evidential arguments
  • arguments for the reliability of scripture
  • arguments for the resurrection
  • reasoning from morality (the problem of good and evil)
  • philosophical arguments for deism (pre-suppositional arguments)
    • cosmological argument
    • teleological argument (aka intelligent design)
    • ontological argument
  • argument from fulfilled prophecy
  • creationism
  • theodicy (explaining the ways of God to humankind)

You find these fleshed out in detail at Wikipedia.

I started thinking about this yesterday when a friend introduced me to Alisa Childers at alisachilders.com. She describes herself on her YouTube page:

I’m a life-long Jesus follower and former CCM recording artist who experienced a period of profound doubt in my mid-thirties. I discovered apologetics, which helped navigate me out of unreasoned doubt and into a vibrant, intellectually informed faith. Now my passion is to read, study, and worship with all that I am!

She has a post entitled:

10 Historical Facts About Jesus From Non-Christian Sources

but in this particular case, I didn’t want to steal search engine results here from her blog, as much as I would have loved to copy and paste it as a reference. So if an internet search brought you here, click the header above and read it on her site.

Rather, I decided to break down what she had written into a few key sources. But you need to read her summary as you’re following this one.

Josephus: A Jewish historian who wrote The Antiquities of the Jews. (It was a First Century bestseller.) He is usually the first go-to source for confirmation of the Jesus narrative. As Alisa notes, he records the life of Jesus who he describes as “wise” and that “his conduct was good.” He also records the stoning of James, and mentions that he was the brother of Jesus.

Celsus: He gets the story wrong, believing that during some time spent in  Egypt Jesus got his miraculous powers, but in saying this, he is acknowledging that Jesus was able to perform miracles.

Tacitus: A respected governmental leader, the statement which follows sounds like it was ripped directly out of The Apostles Creed: “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

Thallus: This First Century author’s works no longer exist, but fortunately for our sake, he was quoted by another writer when he stated that, “there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.”

Phlegon: The same author who quoted Thallus, Julius Africanus, quotes Phlegon as verifying Luke’s date-stamp that these events took place “in the time of Tiberius Caesar,” and also records the crucifixion day darkness as an eclipse which is a reasonable explanation.

The Disciples: Let’s face it, we know from outside sources that they were willing to die for their beliefs. Can’t overlook that. (Staying on the purpose of the list, which we would also call ‘extra-Biblical sources,’ Alisa didn’t add the Bible’s own claim that the resurrected Jesus was seen by over 500 people before the ascension.)

Pliny the Younger: He records Christian worship — Book of Acts style — and notes the personal ethical integrity of the early Christians. They were people you could count on.

Lucian of Samosata: You know you’ve arrived when you turn up in the late night talk show monologues. Lucian was a satirist. Think “The Onion.” But in a more sober moment he notes that, “it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

I’ve greatly shortened Alisa’s material here in order to ENCOURAGE you again to read it on her website. Click here to read 10 Historical Facts… You’ll find fuller quotations, source footnotes for everything cited here, and over 70 reader comments.

…So, for my regular devotional readers, I know what you’re thinking today, “Where’s the green?” (We always put scripture verses in green here, to show that the scriptures contain a life that our own words do not.)

Well, that’s just the point. Sometimes you have go beyond the Bible to impress on someone the historical veracity and reliability of the Jesus narrative. Which brings me to one last extra-Biblical source that wasn’t in her list:

You. I want to avoid the cliché that “you are the only Bible some people will ever read;” but don’t minimize the power of your own testimony; the story of your own life-change. In apologetics, you can argue with a proposition, but it’s hard to argue with a story when the person is standing right there sharing it.

 

 

June 12, 2020

How Can Your Righteousness Surpass the Pharisees?

NIV.Matt.5v17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 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. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses* that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In order to know how to “exceed,” we need to first know what the benchmark is that we are exceeding. What is the righteousness of the Pharisees?

Pharisaic righteousness was (and is today for observant Jews) rooted in the Law of Moses which lays out the standards of behaviour that God expects from those with whom He has made a covenant. Over several centuries, the Pharisees preserved and promulgated this intricately detailed Law, desiring to bring God’s people through to the day of its fulfillment when the righteous would be raised up in vindication, ending Israel’s exile and oppression.

Devout Pharisees were community leaders, steeped in learning and in the nuance of God’s will. Faithful Jews would have followed their example, and turned to them for teaching.

How should we understand what it means to exceed the righteousness of such people?

One possible interpretation flows from the common translation of ερισσεύω into the English equivalent “to exceed.” For many English speakers, this word appears most often in contexts like “to exceed the speed limit.” In other words, to go beyond: to find new ways in which to be righteous, to out-righteous the Pharisees, to be holier than they.

This may have been what the rich young man in Luke 18:18-24 had in mind. He approached Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life and, in Jesus’ words, “enter the Kingdom of God.” He asked this in spite of his own belief that he had kept the Law, an assertion that Jesus did not refute.

Neither did Jesus challenge the young man’s adherence to such minutiae as tithing on “mint and dill,”1 or his keeping of the “least commandment,” as opposed to the greater statutes the young man cites.

Instead, Jesus takes the conversation in a completely different direction—one not of greater adherence, or of more detail, but of the unknown and starting over.

Jesus isn’t impressed by his crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s and certainly shows no desire to engage that debate or to add new rules to the existing ones.

A second interpretation could arise from the Pharisees’ temporal understanding of what they were doing. The righteousness of Jesus’ followers could be seen as more enduring in time than that of the Pharisees.
Their persistence in keeping the Law had in mind the goal of bringing Israel to the time of fulfillment: the Day of the Lord, when the righteous would no longer have to strive, but “sit encrowned and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah.” At that point, the Law would no longer be required.

The righteousness that Jesus endorses seems to have more lasting implications. He points us not only toward a “perfection” like His own, but further forward to our being made “a kingdom and priests” who will actively “reign on the Earth” alongside Christ himself (Revelation 5:10).

In addition, we are no longer waiting for that fulfillment, but we’re taking part in it now. At His baptism, Jesus declares that He is “fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). By this, He doesn’t just mean that he’s meeting personal requirements, but that He’s standing in the place of Israel, taking on the burden of her broken covenant.

A third point of comparison is that Jesus calls out the Pharisees for being ὑποκριτής (those who pretend) and σκανδαλίζω (causing to stumble) both indirectly (Matthew 5:19) and in no uncertain terms (Matthew 23:13 ff). He accuses them of attending to external details, making good impressions, and hiding their internal falsity: of doing rather than being.

Jesus extends His standards deeper by pointing to the heart as the seat of murder, adultery, truth-telling, and acts of grace or revenge. This echoes back to Amos 5 and Micah 6 where God rejects the religious observances of people who have lying tongues and deceitful hearts.

Jesus’ righteousness isn’t simply behaviour, but it flows outward from a heart that has been made clean and surrendered to God.

The final option for identifying Jesus’ “exceeding righteousness” is that it is Himself.

The Pharisees pursued righteousness through studying and keeping the Law. But in Christ, the Law is fulfilled and made complete. “But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction” (Romans 3:21, 22, HCSB). The Law cannot provide for righteousness, but faith in Christ can and does. He himself is our righteousness when we live following Him. No matter how we try or for how long, we cannot achieve righteousness. In fact, if we could, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:19-21, HCSB).

The Pharisees took on themselves the responsibility of living lives of righteousness, setting themselves up as arbiters of what was right. Instead, Jesus sets aside nuance and detail and tells us to enter the Kingdom as a child (Mark 10:13-16): as with the rich young man, dependent and trusting.

Although this last interpretation is the one that carries the most weight in light of the whole New Testament, I think it most applicable in context of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount to focus on the third option: Jesus expects us to allow our righteousness to flow out from hearts that are pure. The Sermon, while it contains some inspirational, encouraging passages and some that promise hard times, provides a very practical foundation for a life lived in imitation of Christ: one of an internal, heart-focused view of oneself and how we are to live with and toward each other.


*exceeds (many translations); is more than (AMP); is greater than (CSB, CEB); do it more faithful (Good News); goes beyond (NET); are more right with God (NLV); more pure and full of integrity (TPT); goes deeper (Voice); do it far better (Message).

June 9, 2020

Jesus and the Kingdom: Matthew 5

I was really hoping at some point this month to share an excerpt from Skye Jethani’s new book, What if Jesus Was Serious? (Moody Press) and review it on my other blog, but after several attempts, it was not to be.

Still you can see some aspects of where I think he was heading in a 9-day reading plan that was posted at Bible.com several years ago. To read this click this link, and then cycle through the 9 days of devotions from The Sermon on the Mount along with the powerful hand-drawn images that Skye also uses in the new book. (These excerpts are from days 3-6.)

Skye speaks with a unique authority among Evangelicals, and the timeliness of these excerpts was not overlooked as I tried to decide what to include. See also the information below for the With God Daily Devotional, or click this link.

by Skye Jethani

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN HEAVEN IS ALREADY HERE.

JESUS REFERS TO HEAVEN regularly in the Sermon on the Mount, including in the opening sentence: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What is the kingdom of heaven? If we misunderstand what Jesus meant by this phrase, then we are likely to misunderstand the whole sermon— and probably Jesus Himself.

First, the kingdom of heaven is not the church. Some assume a local congregation is a “church” but collecting all the churches together is what constitutes God’s “kingdom.” But that is not what Jesus meant.

Second, the kingdom of heaven is not where God’s people go after death. Jesus was not speaking about the afterlife in the Sermon on the Mount. In English, the word heaven carries all kinds of supernatural and spiritual meanings, but the actual word used by Jesus was plural (literally, heavens) and more like how we might use the word skies to describe the atmosphere. The air isn’t a distant realm; it’s all around us. Likewise, Jesus used the word heavens to speak of the nonphysical, invisible, but very present realm where God dwells.

It is the realm where God rules and evil is powerless. Jesus announced that this kingdom was now “at hand,” meaning it is within our reach. The kingdom of the heavens has broken into our world, and a new way of life is now possible. In the Sermon on the Mount, therefore, Jesus is unveiling a new ethic for those who belong to a new kind of kingdom that is not of this world.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . .THEN WE WILL MAKE ROOM TO CRY.

IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE only for happy-clappy people? Where are the doubters, the grievers…? While a church pastor years ago, I read a popular book at the time advocating for the best way to operate a church. The author insisted that all weekend gatherings be called “Celebrations,” and he said the tone of these gatherings should always be upbeat, energetic, and focused on the victorious Christian life. (It’s difficult to read a book that makes your eyes roll as much as that one did.)

The problem with this nonstop celebration model, apart from being inauthentic, is the way it ignores the example found in the Bible. The book of Psalms, for instance, served as the prayer book and worship liturgy for God’s ancient people. It’s the prayer book Jesus and His disciples would have used in their worship. Psalms includes many songs of celebration, but there are even more prayers of lament, complaint, and even cries for justice. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent prayer in the psalms, and it shows that the human-divine relationship has many dimensions. Ancient worship, it seems, could be celebratory, angry, mournful, repentant, or contemplative. So why do we think our worship should only be one dimensional?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” This addresses those who are experiencing grief, but it can also include those who mourn alongside others in their pain. Where do we make space for this legitimate part of the Christian life to find expression in our communities? We must not fall into the delusion that God has called us to a perpetual state of ever-increasing happiness. Jesus reminds us that God is also with us when we mourn, and because this is a broken world mourning is to be expected. But we do not weep as those without hope.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN WE WILL TRUST GOD MORE AND POLITICS LESS.

WHO ARE THE MEEK and why will they inherit the earth? First, we must understand Jesus’ context and how His audience would have heard this statement. The word translated as “earth” can also be translated as “land,” which is probably a better reading. Throughout the Bible, the relationship between God and His people was linked to the promised land. Faithfulness to God meant they could dwell in the land in peace, but unfaithfulness to God meant losing the land and being forced into exile.

Centuries before Jesus, the Jews had returned from exile to the promised land, but they did not fully possess it. The Romans, who were pagans and idolaters, ruled over the land, which was unacceptable and humiliating to the Jews. In a sense, they were still in exile because they remained under the thumb of a foreign power.

This provoked a growing number of Israelites to become Zealots—violent revolutionaries. To the Romans, the Zealots were terrorists. To many Jews, they were freedom fighters. The Zealots believed in using the world’s violent ways to achieve what they believed were God’s goals. Their goal was to “inherit the land” by force. By announcing that the meek were blessed and would “inherit the land,” Jesus was condemning the tactics of the Zealots. He was proclaiming that it was not the powerful, violent, or angry who will accomplish God’s purposes, but the gentle, peaceful, and those who put their trust in Him rather than the sword.

This is an important reminder for those of us living in a divided land where everything has become politicized between “us” and “them.” Like the Zealots, we can be tempted to use the world’s ways—coercion, power, and fear—to “take back the land” for God. Instead, Jesus calls us to put such things aside and discover the power of God available through meekness. It is by trusting the Lord and the meekness of His ways, not through the sword of politics, that the land is won.

IF JESUS WAS SERIOUS . . . THEN A DESIRE FOR JUSTICE SHOULD BE AFFIRMED.

“IT’S NOT FAIR!” With three kids, I hear that a lot in my household. Although the phrase is often misapplied—a fact my wife and I point out often to our apparently persecuted progeny—it does not diminish the strength of their instinct for justice. We all carry a sense that the world is not what it ought to be, and we also have a profound desire for this wrongness to be made into rightness—or what the Bible calls “righteousness.”

The word is often used to describe a properly ordered relationship between God and His people. Violating this relationship makes one unrighteous, while faithfulness to God results in a declaration of one’s righteousness. The word, however, carries a much broader meaning. It can also apply to right relationships between people, between the government and the governed, and between humans and creation. That’s why the same words often translated as “righteousness” in the Bible are also regularly translated in English as “justice.”

…Jesus affirms our longing for justice: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice/righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” He equates the soul’s desire for justice with the unrelenting physical desire for food and water. It is an inescapable aspect of our human condition, and He promises that it will be quenched. We can be assured that, in time, God will set all things right. The desire that God placed in our hearts will ultimately be satisfied. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Again, a reminder that these are excerpts from the middle section of a 9-day reading plan and are missing very helpful illustrations. To read the whole sequence, starting at Day 1, click this link.

Longtime readers here will also remember that for several years we carried a link in the sidebar for Skye’s With God Daily Devotional. It can land in your in-box daily for as little as $3 per month. Go to this link to learn more.

 

 

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

June 1, 2020

Just One Way: Through Jesus

Today we’re introducing a new website to you with the unusual title, Theist Thug Life. (I really wish there was an about page for this one!) Click the header below to read at source, then click the page header there to look at other articles.

The Exclusivity of Christ V. Religious Pluralism

“I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity”. – Oprah Winfrey

Immediately one may see the problem in Oprah’s statement above: A blatant contradiction.  Claiming to be a Christian she states that there is more than one path to God aside from Christianity. So what is she doing here? Oprah is advocating religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is generally the belief that two or more religious worldviews are equally valid or acceptable. This goes beyond simple tolerance (disagreeing but living peaceably together) but rather the very real acceptance of multiple paths to God (or gods) as a possibility. This is in stark contrast to those views that are exclusive, which is the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God. Christianity is one such view that is exclusive. Immediately it becomes clear that her belief that there is more than one way to God is in opposition to her professed belief in Christ. In fact it is in blatant opposition to Jesus Christ himself. What do I mean? Christianity isn’t exclusive because Christians want it that way or because we are trying to come from a position of superiority of belief. No, Christian exclusivism just is because God has made it plainly known that he alone is God and there is only one way to him. One of the most prominent verses towards this end is found in John 14:6,

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The claim here made by Jesus is distinct and purposely narrow. It’s exclusive in that it leaves no room for another way.  In a world that has hundreds, if not thousands, of worldviews proposing the way to God (or gods or not gods) we must apply the law non-contradiction. This law essentially states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true ‘at the same time and in the same sense. Ravi Zacharias helps us understand this point here,

“Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways. One should not be surprised at the claims of exclusivity. The reality is that even those who deny truth’s exclusivity, in effect, exclude those who do not deny it. The truth quickly emerges. The law of non-contradiction does apply to reality: Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Thus, to deny the law of non-contradiction is to affirm it at the same time. You may as well talk about a one-ended stick as talk about truth being all-inclusive.”

Every worldview about God or how to get to God can’t be correct. Either Jesus is the WAY, TRUTH, or LIFE or he isn’t.

Now some may object here by saying that various religious views share certain values and agree on some social issues. Isn’t this religious pluralism? No it isn’t. While, for example, Buddhists and Christians both agree that helping the poor is important, such limited concord is not pluralism per se. Again pluralism has to do with lending credence to competing truth claims. It is a position that advocates the acceptance of diverse beliefs regarding God and salvation as being just as true as any other. However, worldviews contradict each other on a fundamental level. This doesn’t mean some religions can’t share some doctrinal beliefs (like there being only one God) but that the fundamental positions that each hold are irreconcilable. One or the other is true, not both.

Christian Core Beliefs

Christians are those individuals who have been forgiven of their sins. They are individuals who have entered into a close personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9Romans 10:9–10). Within the faith there are those beliefs that are essential and those that are non-essential. The non-essentials are those things that do not affect the salvation of an individual. Such things as dancing, head dressing, alcohol consumption, and so forth are not salvific issues. They are those issues that different Christians can disagree on but not divide over. Essential beliefs are those that are the core foundational beliefs that are paramount. These beliefs are something a person must fully accept as part of his or her own personal worldview to be called a Christian. The following are core beliefs:

• Jesus is the Son of God and is equal with God (John 1:149Luke 22:70Mark 3:11Philippians 2:5–11)
• Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18Luke 1:26–35)
• Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrews 4:15John 8:29)
• Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins (Matthew 26:281 Corinthians 15:2–4)
• Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:46Mark 16:6)
• We are saved by the grace of God; that is, we cannot add to or take away from Christ’s finished work on the cross as full payment for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Notice that these core beliefs of Christianity fly in the face of Oprah’s statement. While she claims to profess Christ she believes differently from what the core beliefs of Christianity are. Many people may indeed be ‘Christian’ in name but ignore or outright reject core beliefs that define who a Christian is. Truly if Christ is our only hope…our sole way of forgiveness of our sins and gaining redemption…then belief that we or others can go outside of Christ for hope and redemption is simply anathema. It does not follow. Such a person who advocates that there are other ways to God aside from Christ is someone who either doesn’t know what they are talking about, deceiving themselves, or they are outright lying and do not believe the truth.

Summary

Ravi Zacharias perfectly finishes off this article below with these last words,

“So where does that leave us? We must not be surprised at truth claims but we must test them before we believe them. If the test demonstrates truth then we are morally compelled to believe it. And this is precisely the point from which many are trying to run. As G.K. Chesterton said, the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.

Christ is either the immeasurable God or one dreadfully lost. Apply the tests of truth to the person and the message of Jesus Christ. You see not only his exclusivity, but also his uniqueness.”

Note: While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

Further Reading and Citations

https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/point-of-exclusion

Here are 10 verses that speak to the exclusivity of Jesus.

  1. John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  2. Acts 4:12 – And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
  3. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  4. Romans 10:9 – Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  5. 2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
  6. John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
  7. Acts 10:43 – To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
  8. 1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
  9. Romans 3:22 – The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
  10. John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

May 18, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Isn’t a Problem: It’s More Complicated

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.  (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

May 9, 2020

Did Jesus’ First Miracle Echo God’s First Miracle?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John 2:10 “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Today’s thoughts are adapted from a 2008 newsletter I sent out; a newsletter which became the inspiration for Thinking Out Loud, which begat Christianity 201…

One of the most difficult aspects of the various debates in creationism has to do with the young/earth old earth issue. Some believe that God took his time to make the earth, that the “days” of Genesis 1 are really “ages” and that’s why we can have compatibility between the idea of a creator God and the scientists who say the earth is millions of years old.

Using this reasoning, “theistic evolution” is possible; the more recent blending of an evolutionary creation view with the concept of a God who was overseeing it all; the idea that God used evolution. But today we’ll stick to a simple young/old dichotomy.

If we arrive at the garden of Eden after that first creation week — let’s pretend we arrive on day ten — we see a tree and the tree is mature. It looks like it might be at least 20 years old. (Though counting the rings would be interesting!) Underneath the tree is a rock. The rock appears to be 20,000 years old. Adam himself becomes more problematic. He’s clearly a man, not an infant. Today, Jewish boys become a man at 13; in North America we use 18, though it once was 21; Jesus began his ministry at 30. Any one of those ages denotes the idea of “man” and not “boy.” From the earliest times, our earth seems to have either aged considerably or has some age built into it.

And really, what we see on day ten works with either a young earth or old earth perspective. One person sees the tree and the rock and says, “These items are 20 years and 20,000 years old respectively.” Another says, “This tree and that rock are only a week old.” But the tree is not a sapling, it’s taller than the man, so there would need to be some allowance for apparent age

…I started thinking about Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine. Wine needs fermentation and fermentation takes time. About a year ago, out of curiosity, we drove to one of those places that lets you make up a batch of wine to enjoy or give away to your friends. A batch of homemade brew would need at least six months as I remember it; and further aging only improves the quality, and they did say at the time that the host of the wedding had “saved the best wine until last.” Did Jesus press a “pause” button, and everyone froze in place for a year while the batch brewed, or did he simply do a creative miracle in an instant?

The former suggestion is something I just made up; I’ve never heard it suggested. If you believe in this miracle at all; it’s the latter you believe in; that the ceremonial washing water was water one moment and wine the next. If that’s the case, it’s interesting that Jesus’ first recorded creative act in the New Testament; and God’s first recorded creative act in the Old Testament should involve things that have apparent age; things that seem to have been created outside the constraints of time as we know it.

And if the earth is as young as some believe, then we are still witnessing the miracle of something created with apparent age, for each time the light of a star is seen at night, we know that scientifically, the light of stars that Adam, and Abraham, and Moses saw left those distant suns thousands of years before the earth was created. Which I know doesn’t make sense to many people.

The thing is, you can have a theistic view of creation and say that God did it, but it in terms of our chronological sense, it took decades and millennia to do so. That would make you an old earth creationist.

But you can’t say that Jesus took six months waiting for the wine to ferment.

Next time you’re wrestling with this issue, either personally or in discussion or with someone else, step outside Genesis for a minute and consider the water-into-wine miracle of the New Testament. Fermentation takes time. The wine definitely had an apparent age. Could this principle extend back into Genesis?

There’s definitely some similarities between what Jesus did at the start of his ministry and God did at the start of human history.


Much of the creation aspect of this depends on linear time being the same that first week as it is now. But there are other ways of seeing this. For example, check out this post from April, 2018: When Did Time Begin? (Which in turn is based on a 2012 post, Why Didn’t He Call the Light, “Light?”)

For more on the miracle at Canada, check out this post from September, 2019, Water to Wine: Miracle and Symbol.

May 7, 2020

Should Christians Have All the Answers?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you feel that there are questions Christianity is not providing good answers for? Why would God allow a pandemic? Why do innocent children suffer while some evil adults do well? Why is God not hearing the prayers of Christians around the world for this pandemic to end? Why does God not seem to answer my prayers at all?

Should we, who are Christians, have all the answers? Should we feel like we are lacking as Christians if we don’t have all the answers? Or, is Christianity lacking as a valid worldview if some questions go unanswered?

I have often thought of the journey of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t open the box and suddenly all the pieces fall into place. There is a long process of getting the pieces together. We don’t simply start following Jesus and expect all the pieces to fall into place. We don’t suddenly know everything there is to know. Rather, we are on a journey of growth in understanding. This is reflected by the apostle Paul:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

There are three things for us to consider from this verse:

First, it is okay to not have all the answers. None of us have a completed puzzle yet! Even the greatest theologians and preachers have pieces still not placed. Those who think they have it all figured out, don’t. I don’t know about you, but when I work on a jigsaw puzzle, there are always pieces which I think belong in particular places, some of which can actually seem to fit, if you hammer them hard enough. But then, later on I find they are out of place. To be able to say “I don’t have an answer for that” may be better than having all kinds of pieces hammered in the wrong places. If Paul can say “now I know only in part” (NRSV), we can too! Here is that same verse in another translation to help us see Paul’s humility:

Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (CEV)

Second, it is okay to be puzzled about our own experiences in life. We may have a season like Job, where despite faithfully putting our best foot forward, we suffer. The suffering does not seem to make sense. An online attendee of our church family (he lives in a different nation!), David Hodgson, shared a post with our church Facebook group. I am sharing it here with his permission:

Imagine the MOST beautiful picture you have ever seen, landscape, person, pet, building – it doesn’t matter what your subject is. Now imagine getting that picture enlarged 10,000 times, and then getting the result turned into a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw puzzle 😳 Some of the pieces individually would be dark, ugly, not make much sense on its own BUT the beautiful picture would be incomplete without it. Now imagine God, who sees everything – He has created a picture more beautiful than anything we can imagine and much larger than a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw – now maybe the bad, dark, things that happen are like the individual pieces mentioned earlier – His beautiful picture would be incomplete without them and they look nasty and ugly on their own 😉 That’s how I look on life, and everything that happens in it – we don’t understand because we have NEVER seen the complete picture, BUT I FIRMLY believe that this helps to put EVERYTHING into context 😃

David Hodgson via Facebook

You might feel like your life is in a very dark place right now. This present darkness is part of a much bigger picture, a beautiful picture. In fact the darkness is a necessary part of that bigger picture. God will complete the picture at some point, then we will see how it all fits together.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)

When we read through the Book of Job, we are not left thinking “ah, all that suffering of Job made sense,” but rather “there is so much we do not know, but we do know we can trust God.” We trust even though “now I know only in part.”

Third, Jesus has given us a wonderful opportunity to make great progress on the puzzle of life and faith. While we have thus far noted Paul’s humility in his knowledge and understanding, we can also note his conviction. Paul has great conviction thanks to Jesus. Because of Jesus there are certain things we do know. Consider these verses:

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

John 1:18 (NLT)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

1 John 4:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus reveals God to us. What is God like? Through Jesus we learn that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Because of Jesus, John, Paul, along with all the apostles, along with Christians down through the centuries, have had confidence that God is, and that God is love. It is like working on a puzzle, and getting the most important bits done. Being an avid motorcyclist I have a puzzle of a Triumph motorcycle. Coming to a knowledge of God and God’s love in Jesus is like getting the pieces that make up the motorcycle in place. Yes, there are unanswered questions, but they are the bits nearer the edges, out of the main focus of the picture.

The Lord’s Table is a reminder, that now we have great answers to the most important questions. Is there a God, and if so, what is he like? We are reminded that God came to us in Jesus, His body broken for us, his blood shed for the atonement of our sins. God is, and God is love. A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

Have you ever been tempted to give up on Christianity because there are unanswered questions? It is okay to not have all the answers. But in Jesus we have the answer to the most important question of all; does God love me?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

May 6, 2020

Look, Speak With, But Don’t Hug the Post-Resurrection Jesus

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
– John 20:17 NIV

Today we return again to Good Question, a blog by InterVarsity Press (IVP) author Christopher R. Smith. This is a treasure trove of Q&A on subjects that some people find difficult or controversial.  Click the title below to read at source.

Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection?

Q. Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection because he hadn’t yet returned to the Father? Why would Jesus object to Mary clinging to him … that is really puzzling. You would think he would have reciprocated with a bear hug for about an hour, if only for her sake. What’s the connection between the return to the Father and not clinging to him?

This is indeed a puzzling matter, and interpreters have offered many different explanations for it. Personally I like the way that Raymond Brown explains it in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

Brown suggests, first of all, that when Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” we should not think he is speaking of the ascension that Luke describes as taking place forty days after the resurrection. Brown feels that that particular event, in which Jesus was seen ascending on the clouds into heaven, was intended to indicate evocatively that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus had come to an end. Brown believes that Jesus also went to be with the Father in less visible ways in between his appearances to the disciples. The first of those times would have been right after the resurrection, and Mary would have seen him, in effect, on his way there.

As Brown understands it, this timing is actually crucial to the point John is making. At the Last Supper, Jesus had said, “I will come back to you. In a little while the world will see me no longer, but you will see me.” Brown says that when Mary sees Jesus, “she thinks that he has returned as he promised and now he will stay with her and his other followers, resuming former relationships.” Jesus had also said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Brown says that Mary is “trying to hold on to the source of her joy, since she mistakes an appearance of the risen Jesus for his permanent presence with his disciples.” But instead, by “telling her not to hold on to him, Jesus indicates that his permanent presence is not by way of appearances but by way of the gift of the Spirit that can only come after he has ascended to the Father.” (Jesus had also told his followers at the Last Supper, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”)

So Jesus is basically saying to Mary, “I’m not on my way back from the Father” (this is not what my continuing presence with you will be like), “I’m on my way to the Father” (so that I can send the Spirit, who will be my continuing presence with you). So this would be yet another place in the Gospel of John where a person mistakes a physical reality for a spiritual one and Jesus needs to explain otherwise (as in the case of Nicodemus misunderstanding what it means to be “born again,” for example, or the woman at the well misunderstanding what Jesus meant by “living water,” and so forth).

Brown argues convincingly that the present imperative used here means “don’t cling to me” or “don’t hold on to me” rather than “don’t touch me.” So this isn’t an issue of what Jesus’ post-resurrection, pre-ascension body was like and how it could or couldn’t interact with earthly bodies. Rather, the issue is that Jesus’ followers are not to “cling to” him as they knew him on this earth, but rather experience his continuing presence through the Spirit he has sent from the Father.


Go Deeper:

Because Christopher Smith mentioned Raymond Brown, I thought some of you might be interested in further research Brown did on this topic, as located at Stack Exchange. (Warning: There’s quite a range of interpretations here!)

  • Jesus’ wounds were still sore so he did not like being touched.
  • Kraft proposes that the prohibition was because it was against ritual to touch a dead body.
  • Chrysostom and Theophylact argue that Jesus was asking that more respect be shown to him. This theory is sometimes linked to the notion that while it was not appropriate for a woman to touch Jesus it was fine for a man like Thomas.
  • C. Spicq sees the resurrected Jesus as the equivalent of one of the Jewish high priests who should not be sullied by physical contact.
  • Kastner, who believes Christ returned in the nude, believes the prohibition was so that Mary would not be tempted by Jesus’ body.
  • Mary should not touch Jesus because she should not need physical proof of the resurrection but should trust in her faith.
  • Bultmann sees the phrase as an indirect way of saying that the resurrected Jesus was not at this point tangible.
  • According to Moule Jesus’ intervention is not a prohibition on being touched, but rather an assurance that the touching is not needed for he had not yet returned to the Father and was still firmly here on Earth. His use of the present tense is said to mean that he should not be touched just at this moment, but could be touched in future.
  • Some link it with the next verse stating that they should be read as one to say “don’t touch me instead go tell my disciples of the news.”
  • In John Calvin’s commentary he argues that Jesus did not forbid simple touching, but rather that Jesus had no problems until the women began to cling to him as though they were trying to hold him in the corporeal world at which point Jesus told them to let go. Some translations thus use touch for the seemingly permitted actions in Mark and cling for the action Jesus chides Mary for in this verse.
  • Barrett mentions the possibility that between this verse and John 20:22 Jesus fully ascends to heaven.

Alternative translations mentioned by Brown:

  • Some scholars eliminate the negative leaving the phrase as “touch me,” implying that Jesus is telling Mary to verify his physical form
  • W.E.P. Cotter and others argue that the text should actually read “do not fear me”
  • W.D. Morris believes it should read “do not fear to touch me”

…we see as though through frosted glass, says the scripture, so some passages are not going to be immediately clear to everyone all the time.

 

April 25, 2020

The Profit from Persistence

Over the years a consistent source of material for us here has been Jim Thornber, who we originally discovered because his website is called Thinking Out Loud. This story of the woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer is included in scripture to increase our faith. Jesus gives her a rather odd answer at first, and she is quick with a response. If you don’t know this story, click here to read Matthew 15: 21-28. Otherwise, I again encourage you to send some direct traffic to our contributing writers by clicking the headers like the one which appears next.

The Crumbs of Faith and Hope

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.’ But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’”­ Matthew 15:24-25

As I write this, the world is in turmoil because of coronavirus, or COVID-19. In response to this pandemic, prayers all over the world are ascending to God’s throne, and many pastors, like myself, are searching for ways to comfort and guide our people. Is God judging the world? Is He trying to remind us there is only one race on earth, the human race, and we need to work together as companions instead of apart as competitors?

I’ll let better minds than my own try to figure out what God is doing on a global scale, for I’ve got my hands full praying for and touching (not literally!) the lives I come in contact with (not literally!) every day. What I do know is God is not the silent type, and even when He is, He is leading us into a life of faith and hope.

All of this has me thinking about the very persistent mother in Matthew 15:21-28. The story finds Jesus leaving Galilee and going north into Tyre and Sidon, which was Gentile territory. A Canaanite (enemies of the Jews) woman who lived there came to Him and pleaded for Jesus to heal her daughter, who was being tormented by a demon. As a response to this request, Jesus remained silent.

Today, silence is a most hated concept. With smartphones, the internet, radio and television blaring everywhere we go, we’ve learned to distrust the sound of silence. Silence is wrong. Silence means something is broke. Silence from our political leaders means they are not working on our behalf. Silence from our religious leaders means they don’t have the comforting answers we seek. Silence makes us nervous. Silence makes us wonder if we’re still alive if all we hear is the sound of our own breathing.

Add to that silence of Jesus the complete lack of compassion from the Disciples. Sure, they want Jesus to heal her, but only because “she is bothering us with all her begging” (15:23). In other words, if healing her daughter will get her to shut up, then DO IT! So, couple the silence of Jesus with the fact the people hanging out with Jesus urge Him to send her away, in most instances you’d have an emotional breakdown in the making. This woman is facing rejection on all sides and she knows it, but she still doesn’t go away. She just stands there and waits for the Son of David to answer her request, and when Jesus does speak, it is not as the meek and mild Jesus we sing about in church.

“I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel,” He replies. Great. Not only is Jesus treating her with silence, now He says he wasn’t sent for her. Apparently, there are people whose needs are greater or better or more deserving than a mother whose child is possessed by a demon.

At this point in the story, I’d be ready to tell the Son of David what He can do with His Messiah complex. I mean, if God is going to be so callused as to tell me that others are more deserving of His mercy and grace, then it’s time to find another god.

But, what this woman does next just astounds me. Verse 25 says, “she came and worshiped him.” Is that what I would do? Would I worship God after He has been silent? Would I worship God after His church board has suggested He heal me just so I wouldn’t upset their precious fellowship? Would I worship this God after He tells me He’s not here for me?  Honestly, I’d be more tempted to whine about how life is all against me than to worship a God who intends to ignore me.

However, this persistent mom challenges me again, for in her humility she acknowledges that everything Jesus said was true. She was not an Israelite, Jesus was not here for her first, and she shouldn’t get the meat from the table. All true. It’s only the proud people like me who think Jesus’ arrival on earth was all about meeting my personal needs according to my personal comfort and timing. When will I learn that even the scraps from God’s table are richer fare than any five-star meal the world has to offer? Isn’t it better to be a dog in God’s kingdom than a king in the realm of Satan? This woman has seen how demons treat people like her daughter, and she knows there is more compassion in the crumbs of God than in the lies of the loftiest fallen angel.

Now, let’s look at this passage from another angle. Yes, Jesus was silent, but He was there. He was in her presence and He didn’t leave. In fact, He came to her Gentile town; she didn’t travel to find Him in Israel. There is always hope when God is present, and God is always present. While most of the world lacks the awareness of His presence, this racially, geographically and theologically distanced enemy of Jesus was more aware of His mercy and compassion than were His Disciples.

Next, we see that silence isn’t a refusal. He was silent but He didn’t say no. He was silent but He didn’t leave. In silence there also is hope. Don’t let the silence of God or the quick answers of the critics send you away from what you need most.

When Jesus replied He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel (and I can’t help but think He said that with a twinkle in His eye, just to test her faith), He was indicating there is still hope. If there wasn’t hope, what was Jesus doing in Gentile territory? Sometimes we think God is only going to help the good people who are worthy. But this scene reminds us that God came to save the world, because the entire world is as unworthy as this Gentile woman. God is increasing her faith, and we could all use a bit more faith.

Therefore, the next time God is silent regarding our requests, we need to remember His silence doesn’t mean “No.” We need to remember that Jesus came to us before we came to Jesus, for that reminds us how important we are to Him. We, I, need to remember that the critics who want me to disappear have forgotten that Jesus chose to be with me, and I’ll stand in His presence as long as He’ll have me.

Finally, when God tells me the truth about who I am, I need to remember that even a mutt like me has a place at the banquet table of God. Sure, life may not always go as I’d like it, but Jesus has entered the room and where He is, there is hope.

So, during this time of quarantine, shut-ins, social distancing, job loss and financial uncertainty, we all have a choice—we can worship or we can whine. Granted, my first response has not always been as persistent as the mommy in the story. However, I’m learning wherever I am and in whatever circumstances I find myself, there is always room for more worship, for more conversation with God and for more faith, for “through His great mercy we have been reborn into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

April 22, 2020

The Forgiveness/Bitterness Dichotomy

Simon the Pharisee throws a party: The painting, Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee by Rubens, c. 1618. (via Wikipedia) Notice the woman at Jesus’ feet. See scripture below.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer (in the Sermon on the Mount)

“Detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.” – Lord’s Prayer as translated from Aramaic (full text in C201 1.27.19)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Also Sermon on the Mount

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians (4:32, NIV)

At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. – Dialog found in Matthew’s Gospel (18:21-22, The Message)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Jesus teaching, as recorded by Mark (11:25)

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” – Luke’s account of Jesus responding to Simon’s objections to Jesus reaching out to a disreputable woman at a party Simon was hosting. (Full account in 7:36-50)

So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him...
When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.
– Paul, in a second letter to the Corinthians on reshaping their approach toward a man in the church who was the object of church discipline. (2: 8,10,11 NLT)


Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your back yard, in which to bury the faults of your friends. (Henry Ward Beecher)

Many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul. The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory. – Russell Young (C201 9.5.17)

Maybe we’re afraid that by demonstrating grace and mercy we will seem weak on sin. Need that be so? Jesus spoke to the heart, not to the behavior. As demonstrated in the John 8 story, He told [the woman caught in adultery] to sin no more, but by His act of mercy, He also demonstrated love! – Rick Apperson (C201 1.18.15)

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship… – Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship


A year ago we introduced you to the writing of Matt Tullos and today we’re back at his site again.

Forgiveness is More about You Than Them

All was well in the Amish community in Lancaster Pennsylvania until a deranged man mercilessly shot 10 Amish girls and then turned the gun on himself in 2006. How did they respond to this shocking loss? Amazingly, the Amish community didn’t blame. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family. They understood the importance of forgiveness, not for the killer’s sake. He was dead. But for themselves. Why? Because living in unforgiveness is debilitating.

Most of us will not have to endure that depth of offense. Most bitter people didn’t become a bitter person through the act of a single dagger. Most bitter people are dying from a thousand paper-cuts. The girl that rejected him… The backroom deal in the company that cost him a promotion… The humiliation experienced years ago from a father’s rage… Whether we can reconcile the relationship or not, we must forgive.

We get stuck. We fantasize about vindication. We look at relationships surrounding the offense with malice. We cling to bitterness as our beverage of choice. We talk about it to people who have no business hearing of it. We dream about going back, doing things differently, saying something more damaging, or avoiding the offense. For many, this becomes a lifestyle that poisons every relationship they enter. It’s insidious.

Jesus is clear on this. In order to be forgiven, you must forgive. That’s easy to say but hard to do. And yet this is a primary hallmark of Christian manhood. It’s a heart issue. Who knows? Forgiveness might just save your life.

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” – George Herbert


 

April 13, 2020

On the Cusp of the Four Cups

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Okay, I don’t know why I chose that title for today’s devotional, but there is definitely something afoot in Luke 22: 13-23 about cups. We join the Passover meal (aka The Last Supper) in the middle of the story, where Jesus takes the second of four cups. Then the third. Bread in between. Only Luke offers this sequence.

That there are two cups in this story probably confuses new Christians who are accustomed to the Communion or Eucharist where there is one instance of bread and one instance of cup. The cup-bread-sequence needs to be understood.

I was thinking about this reading Devotions by Chris by Chris Hendrix in a post entitled The Promise of Redemption.

A traditional Passover meal, called a Seder, is a meal to commemorate the Israelites leaving Egypt. They recline to eat instead of sitting in a chair, eat matza (unleavened bread), bitter herbs and four cups of wine. The first cup of wine represents sanctification, which is the process of being made holy. It’s to remember that God’s people are to be set apart. The second cup represents the joy of Deliverance, a reminder that we are no longer under the yoke of slavery. The third cup is the cup of redemption. It was after eating the lamb as a reminder of the price paid for redemption. The fourth cup is the cup of restoration, a reminder that God would make His people a nation.

Think back to the night Jesus was betrayed (Good Friday). The disciples prepared the Passover meal where Jesus had told them to (Matthew 26:19). There’s no recording of the first cup of wine, but in Luke 22:17 we see the second cup where Jesus says He won’t drink it again until the Kingdom has come. We then read where Jesus broke the matza and blessed it. In verse 20 it says He lifted up another cup (third – redemption) and told them that He was making a new covenant confirmed with His blood as the Passover lamb. Matthew and Mark then say the went to the garden after this cup. While Jesus was on the cross, John 19 records that Jesus said He was thirsty. They lifted up sour wine to Him (fourth cup). Verse 30 says when He drank it, He said, “It is finished” and died. He finished the Passover meal and the fulfillment of it in that moment to redeem us and to restore us to God.

This drove me deeper into tracking down the cups in a Jewish context which took me to Chabad.org and this article which states,

G‑d uses four expressions of redemption in describing our Exodus from Egypt and our birth as a nation:

1. “I will take you out…”

2. “I will save you…”

3. “I will redeem you…”

4. “I will take you as a nation…”

Our sages instituted that we should drink a cup of wine, a toast if you will, for each one of these expressions. We recite the Kiddush over the first cup, we read the Exodus story from the Haggadah over the second cup, we recite the Grace after Meals over the third cup, and we sing the “big Hallel” (Psalms and hymns of praises to G‑d) over the fourth cup.

 There are a number of explanations as to the significance of the various stages of redemption conveyed through each of these expressions. Here is one:

1. Salvation from harsh labor—this began as soon as the plagues were introduced.

2. Salvation from servitude; or the day the Jews left Egypt geographically and arrived at Ramses.

3. The splitting of the sea, after which the Jews felt completely redeemed, without fear of the Egyptians recapturing them.

4. Becoming a nation at Sinai.

During the Seder we can experience these elements of redemption in a spiritual sense.

Another article by a different author at the same website offers various interpretations of the four cups.

We were liberated from Pharaoh’s four evil decrees: a) Slavery. b) The ordered murder of all male progeny by the Hebrew midwives. c) The drowning of all Hebrew boys in the Nile by Egyptian thugs. d) The decree ordering the Israelites to collect their own straw for use in their brick production.


The four cups symbolize our freedom from our four exiles: The Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek exiles, and our current exile which we hope to be rid of very soon with the coming of Moshiach.


The words “cup of wine” are mentioned four times in Pharaoh’s butler‘s dream (Genesis 40:11-13). According to the Midrash, these cups of wine alluded to the Israelites’ liberation.

The website of Chosen People Ministries shows each of these fulfilled in Christ:

The ministry of Messiah speaks to each of these four promises:

Messiah sanctifies us – “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19).

Messiah delivers us – “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Messiah redeems us – “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Messiah is our joy – “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

But the view suggested at the top of today`s devotional, that Jesus completes the Passover meal with the wine mixed with vinegar on the cross is occasionally challenged. Religion professor Jonathan Klawans states,

Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples did not take place on the first night of Passover. There is a real difference between John and the synoptics on this question, and John’s chronology continues to make much more sense to me: Jesus was tried and killed before the holiday began. By Seder time, he was buried.

Which begs the question, was this truly a ‘second cup, bread, third cup’ scenario? I would argue that it was a Passover meal. The notes in most Evangelical study Bibles would argue that it was, indeed a Passover meal, but suggest that the completion takes place at The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (Notice the parallel lamb reference.)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”
 – Rev. 19:9 NLT

Back to Luke, I believe this ‘third’ cup is indeed Jesus of Nazareth saying, “I will redeem you.” He redefines both the bread and the wine, and most importantly, becomes our Passover lamb.

But that doesn’t dismiss Chris’ idea quoted at the outset, because you could accept that the wine/vinegar mix is cup number four if you are still anticipating cup number five. Yes, five.

You see, I didn’t give you the entirety of the first quotation from Chabad.org and I’m going to give them the last word, because I think the imagery from a Christian perspective is rather obvious!

There is actually a fifth expression in the above mentioned verses: “And I will bring you to the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance.

While the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation were permanent, we have yet to be brought to Israel on a permanent basis.

In honor of this verse we have a fifth cup at the Seder: the Cup of Elijah. This cup is set up for Elijah during the second half of the Seder, but we do not drink it. Elijah will announce the arrival of Moshiach1, who will bring all Jews to Israel, for good.


1(lit. “the anointed one”) the Messiah. One of the 13 principles of the Jewish faith is that G-d will send the Messiah to return the Jews to the land of Israel, rebuild the Holy Temple and usher in the utopian Messianic Era.

 

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