Christianity 201

May 27, 2017

Jesus: His Three Count Case Against the World

A year ago here we introduced you to Jean’s Gospel, a series of teachings which appear on Michael Newnham’s blog Phoenix Preacher. Today we looked at a few of Jean’s more recent writings and chose this one to share with you. Click the title below to read this at source:

Jean’s Gospel: The Advocate

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:5-11)

When Jesus said, “I am going to him who sent me,” the disciples did not grasp the full significance of His departure. They understood only enough to cause them sorrow. His leaving would end their hopes that Jesus would establish a visible kingdom and government on earth. Moreover, Jesus had just finished preparing the disciples for the rejection and persecution they would receive from the world. Could they accomplish their commission without Jesus physically with them?

But just moments earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would accomplish greater works than He “because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Now He adds: “it is to your advantage that I go away.” Jesus was not leaving them alone. When He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them as their Helper, Advocate and Comforter. The disciples would be the instruments of the Holy Spirit, and He would guide them into all truth.

Christ’s kingdom will remain and grow, but as a spiritual kingdom: “he will convict the world.” His kingdom is not a government constituted in worldly fashion by human wisdom and power, but a government of the Holy Spirit, in which Christ rules invisibly, not with bodily power, but through the Word alone. The Church proclaims Christ, His Word and His kingdom to the world.

But first Jesus had to return to the Father: “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Jesus had work to finish, in the flesh, as the world’s High Priest, by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice and substitute for the sins of the world. Thus His route to the Father would take Him to Calvary, to a sepulcher, to His resurrection, to His ascension and finally to His exaltation at the right hand of the Father.

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8)

Pilate and the Jewish leaders thought they could convict and put an end to Jesus and His followers, but actually the Holy Spirit, through the office of preaching, would take the initiative, reverse the roles, and convict the whole world – rich and poor, strong and weak, kings and slaves, that the world is in the wrong before God. The world will be compelled to hear the Holy Spirit’s case against it regardless of rejection, threats, intimidation or persecution against Christ, His Church or His preachers. No one will be able to escape sin, death and hell, nor enter heaven, who does not hear and submit to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes His case against the world in three counts: concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Count #1: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” (John 16:9)

Because it does not believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin.

When Paul preached in Athens, he accused the Greeks of “ignorance” concerning God (Acts 17:22-31). God is not “an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to God. If “sin” is defined as “missing the mark”, then one always will miss the mark if one is ignorant of the target. Unbelief in Jesus is the chief sin, because Jesus is the image of God and without belief in Him one is ignorant of God.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15); “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3); “Whoever has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Only with belief in Jesus can one begin to fear, love and trust God; only then can one begin to live according to God’s will and commandments.

Belief in Jesus, that He is the Son of God, who has made satisfaction for our sins, who died and was raised for our justification, etc., falls outside of empirical knowledge and human wisdom, so none of us acquires a belief in Jesus through human means. The Holy Spirit must convict the world of who Jesus is and what He suffered in our stead, and of His victory for our benefit. He who does not believe in Jesus cannot be rid of sin nor escape the wrath of God, because he has no forgiveness and abides under condemnation.

Count #2: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;” (John 16:10)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world that Jesus is righteous and the world is unrighteous, because Jesus goes to the Father and the world sees Him no longer.

Jesus is the One of whom the Father said: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) It is Jesus of whom David was speaking: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ” (Matt 22:44). By His going to the Father, the Holy Spirit convicts the world that Jesus alone is righteous.

On the other hand, there is no righteousness on earth. As God warned Moses: “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). David also wrote: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Ps 143:2).

Therefore, man cannot obtain righteousness by his own efforts; he must clothe himself in the righteousness of Christ through faith in the Gospel. As Paul wrote: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:8b-9).

Count #3: “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world of God’s judgment in favor of Jesus and against the world. He will testify that Christ’s death and resurrection prove that Jesus defeated the powers of sin, death and Satan. By His victory, Satan is judged and condemned. Anyone who shares the unbelief of Satan is similarly judged and condemned.

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37)

The Holy Spirit has two offices. With the Law He performs His alien work which is to convict and condemn the whole world. With the Gospel He performs His proper work which is to comfort and make alive. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6b).

What is the Father’s desire for everyone who receives the Holy Spirit’s verdict? Quite simply this: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Amen.

 

December 14, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Outward

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. – Matthew 9:35

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. – Matthew 11:12

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

Yesterday we began a two-part look at the two nouns which occur twice in The Lord’s Prayer: heaven and kingdom. (There’s a third word that’s a verb…we’ll get to that one!)

Kingdom occurs twice in the version of the prayer recited by Protestants because of the inclusion of text found in later manuscripts of Matthew 6.

your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

and

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
and the power and the glory forever.
For yours is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

At BibleStudyTools.com we see that there are various kingdoms mentioned in scripture, but it’s the kingdom of God we’re most interested in. Quoting Easton’s Bible Dictionary:

Kingdom of God

( Matthew 6:33 ; Mark 1:14 Mark 1:15 ; Luke 4:43 ) = “kingdom of Christ” ( Matthew 13:41 ; 20:21 ) = “kingdom of Christ and of God” ( Ephesians 5:5 ) = “kingdom of David” ( Mark 11:10 ) = “the kingdom” ( Matthew 8:12 ; 13:19 ) = “kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 3:2 ; 4:17 ; 13:41 ), all denote the same thing under different aspects, viz.: (1) Christ’s mediatorial authority, or his rule on the earth; (2) the blessings and advantages of all kinds that flow from this rule; (3) the subjects of this kingdom taken collectively, or the Church.

The last one is important to remember; we — the Church — are part of that kingdom. We represent that kingdom.

Also at BibleStudyTools, as we did yesterday, we want to look at Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. This is just the first part of the entry

The heart of Jesus’ teachings centers around the theme of the kingdom of God. This expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-five times. It also occurs twice in John (3:3, 5). It is found in such key places as the preaching of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” ( Matt 3:2 ); Jesus’ earliest announcement, “The time has come… The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” ( Mark 1:15 ; cf. Matt 4:17 ; Luke 4:42-43 );the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “your kingdom come” ( Matt 6:10 ); in the Beatitudes, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 5:3 Matthew 5:10 ); atthe Last Supper, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” ( Mark 14:25 ); and in many of Jesus’ parables ( Matthew 13:24 Matthew 13:44 Matthew 13:45 Matthew 13:47 ; Mark 4:26 Mark 4:30 ; Luke19:11 ).

It was once popular in certain circles to argue that the expressions “kingdom ofGod” and “kingdom of heaven” referred to two different realities. It is now clear, however, that they are synonyms. This is evident for several reasons. For one, the two expressions are used in the same sayings of Jesus, but where Matthew uses”kingdom of heaven, ” Mark or Luke or both use “kingdom of God.”Second, Matthew himself uses these two expressions interchangeably in 19:23-24, “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven … for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Finally, we know that “heaven” was frequently used as a circumlocution for “God” by devout Jews. Due to respect for the third commandment (“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” [ Exod 20:7 ]), pious Jews used various circumlocutions for the sacred name of God (YHWH) in order to avoid the danger of breaking this commandment. One such circumlocution was the term”heaven.” This is seen in the expression “kingdom of heaven” but also in such passages as Luke 15:18, 21 (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you”) and Mark 11:30.

Various Interpretations Despite the centrality of this expression in Jesus’ teachings, there has been a great deal of debate over the years as to exactly what Jesus meant by it. One reason for this is that neither Jesus nor the Evangelists ever defined exactly what they meant by this expression. They simply assumed that their hearers/readers would understand.

Then follows a description — click the link to read at source — of each of these interpretations including:

  1. The Political Kingdom
  2. The “Liberal” or Spiritual Kingdom
  3. The “Consistent” or Future Kingdom
  4. The “Realized” or Present Kingdom

[If you need to stop here today; that’s fine; what follows is bonus content…]

…So…why are there two versions of the prayer?

This explanation was linked to OurLadyOfSorrows.us, a Catholic website, but the particular page is no longer there:

Very early on in the Catholic Liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer was concluded with a doxology (a prayer of praise), “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever”. This was not part of the original Greek Scriptural text and consequently is not included in many modern Bible translations.

However, there are other non-Scriptural writings which have been preserved from the early days of the Church. It was here, where the doxology was first found in the important document called the “Didache,” (written between 70-140 AD). “Didache” (Did-ah-kay) simply means ‘teaching’. The “Our Father” in the Didache had the doxology tagged onto the end without the words “the kingdom”. The tradition of the doxology was carried into the Liturgy, and became so closely associated with the Lord’s Prayer that it is now often mistaken to be part of the prayer itself. The words “the kingdom” were added later and are preserved in the document “The Apostolic Constitutions” (written 250-380 AD). The “Our Father” is contained twice in the Bible (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) with no doxology for although very ancient, it is not found in the original manuscripts. This is simply a prayer from the believers in the early centuries of the Church whose spirits were moved by the Holy Spirit to close this beautiful prayer in grandiose fashion. These early writings never present it as an essential part of the “Our Father”, but rather an “embolism,” (added prayer), intended to increase fervor and direct the intention of the faithful.

The early Church did use the doxology in the Liturgy just as we do today. The doxology has been included in and taken out of the Mass throughout history. This prayer had been omitted from the Liturgy of recent centuries until Vatican II when it was reauthorized for use at Mass only. It is recited and acknowledged as an ancient prayer of praise. This is why it is not said immediately following the words “deliver us from evil”. So why do Protestants use these words?

It is believed that a copyist when copying Matthew’s Gospel put a note in the margin, noting that in the Mass, we follow the “Our Father” with the doxology. A later copyist mistakenly transcribed the margin note into the text itself and it was preserved in all subsequent copies of the manuscript…  [sourced at]

For a Protestant explanation we looked at a much longer article by Dr. Tim LeCroy. The first part was very much like what is above, the second part is below, and a third part dealt with the text from the viewpoint of church history. Click this link to read it all.

You ask, “Why do we pray [it] when it is not in the Bible?” Well, the fact that this is not in the Bible is not certain. This is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Granted most biblical scholars will say that it is not original to the text of Matthew. But this is a guess on their part. A very educated guess based on solid scholarship, yet a guess nonetheless.

You see, the text of the New Testament you hold in your hand is based on two different families of manuscripts. One family is called the Alexandrian and the other the Byzantine. On 99% of New Testament these two families agree. Yet they differ on some points. The ending of the Lord’s Prayer is one of them.

First let me tell you about these two families of texts.  By far, most of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that we (and by “we” I mean the scholarly community) have are of the Byzantine family. The oldest of the Byzantine texts dates back to the 4th century. That’s about as far back as we go with complete texts of the Bible. The Byzantine family is also the basis for the text used in the King James Bible.

Then we have the Alexandrian family. There are far fewer texts of the Alexandrian family and they weren’t discovered until the 19th century or so (when I say discovered, I mean that Western scholars didn’t know about them). Biblical scholars like the texts of the Alexandrian family because they are cleaner (meaning there are fewer variations between them) and they omit some of these section of the bible (like the ending of the Lord’s Prayer and the long ending of Mark). For biblical scholars, shorter = simpler = less contaminated = closer to the original. Almost always when the Byzantine differs from the Alexandrian, biblical scholars will go with the Alexandrian. This is a generalization, but it is normally the case.

So the New Testament you hold in your hand is mostly of the Alexandrian family, while the King James is of the Byzantine. Thus there are the differences.

Tim ended with this verse, which is where we need to stop today!

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11-13 ESV)

all scriptures NIV except as noted

 

 

September 11, 2016

Where is God’s Heavenly Kingdom?

by Russell Young

   The location of the kingdom of heaven may not seem important, however knowing its setting might bring clarity to some important issues.  Due to lack of understanding people have entertained, and do entertain, all kinds of fanciful thoughts concerning heaven itself. The imaginations of many allow them to consider an eternal utopian existence somewhere in the grand beyond.  Most people have probably developed their own impression of God’s eternal kingdom.

The Bible reveals some truths that should impact our lives.

There are two locations revealed that apply to God’s heavenly kingdom. At this time, he is both building his kingdom and has a kingdom. He manages or reigns over his creation from heaven and will continue to do so until his Son has perfected his creation.  “Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24-25 NIV) When the reign of Christ is completed and the kingdom given to the Father, God’s heavenly kingdom will begin.

The second location for God’s heavenly kingdom is revealed as being on earth.  Heavenly, in this case, means heaven-like, or as existed in heaven.

John testified that he saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev 21:2 NIV) He had a vision of the Holy City descending to the new earth.  Some take this to mean a newly formed earth, however “new” in Revelation 21:1 comes from the Greek kainos and refers to newness–especially in freshness and not properly in respect to age. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #2537) The new heaven and the new earth will bring glory to God.  The Lord is making everything new (Rev 21:5), including the hearts and minds of those who will dwell with him.

The prophets wrote of a renewed earth. Isaiah has recorded, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isa 40:4 NIV) Zechariah revealed: “The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah.  But Jerusalem will be raised up and remain in its place, from the Benjamin Gate… to the royal winepresses.  It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure.” (Zech 14:10, 11 NIV) Further description can be found in Isaiah 35:6─10. “Those passing through will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden.’” (Eze 36:35 NIV) And, the Lord revealed that “there is no longer any sea.” (Rev 21:1 NIV)

Paul stated that “this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 8:31 NIV) Further he taught of the “frustration that God’s creation is enduring as it waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed … in hope that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.” (Rom 8:19…21 NIV)

The purpose for a new earth must be put into perspective.  God had created and had declared his creation to be very good.  He had a purpose and had exercised his power to accomplish his good pleasure.  The evil inclinations of humankind (Gen 6:5) had prevented the fulfillment of his objective, but one day it will come about.  When those who have honored him through their own free will are chosen, his creation will be liberated and his heaven-like (heavenly) kingdom will be established on earth.  All things will have become new.

Everyone needs to recognize that God loves his world (Jn 3:16), not just humankind. The Lord prophesied that at the time of the sounding of the seventh trumpet the time had come for “destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18 NIV) The earth is intended to be preserved for the future.

The revelation of a new heaven and a new earth, and the teachings that accompany it should give humankind pause to think.  It is not just a pardon that God’s people require; it is a transformation of their souls, hearts and minds into those whose imaginations are not constantly evil (Gen 6:5); they must become an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) Those who are chosen will be in the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:29), “a new creation.” (Gal 6:15) When his creation is refreshed to the state he had called “very good” his plan for creation will be completed. His heavenly kingdom will be on earth. This time, however, “everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Mt 13:41 NIV) will be weeded out of his kingdom and it will be eternally righteous.

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tar from their eyes.  There will be no more crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4 NIV) God will finally have the created kingdom that he had envisioned and it will be on earth.

January 21, 2016

Is God Schizophrenic?

Today we welcome a new writer to C201 and one of a very limited number of people here who I have been privileged to meet face-to-face. Russ Young’s writing focuses on ways in which the church has compromised Biblical teachings on grace and salvation and eternal life, and our one hour discussion challenged me personally in areas where my standards with respect to holiness have the propensity to become lax.

•••by Russell Young

Is God Schizophrenic? The answer is, of course not. The problem is that at least western Christianity is treating Him as if He was. That is, He is viewed as being bi-polar. In the Old Testament He is seen as being a wrathful God, bringing His anger upon the Jews for their disobedience and rebellion. In the New Testament, He is viewed as the all-forgiving, all-loving, and all-tolerant God. In the Old Testament He might be viewed as being depressive; while, in the New He is viewed as being manic. Of course, God does not change and has not changed. He is pure in all His ways and His expectations have not changed.

The issue that has distorted understanding of God and which has distorted the gospel is that of teachings concerning “grace.” The believer is saved by grace, but his eternal salvation is not unilaterally gifted as is often presented; nor does God’s grace cover sin deliberately committed following confession of faith. The Jews lived under the Covenant of the Law. Obedience to its governance was required in order to avoid God’s wrath. This was and remains so because He is supreme and He is holy. The LORD had presented the laws concerning His righteous government to Moses in stone. Defying them is defying Him…His sovereignty. He will not give His glory to another. Through them He also revealed the nature that He wanted to have established for His kingdom. To contravene His Law is to blemish the holy nature of His kingdom.

The LORD knew the heart of man and knew its inclination to evil (Genesis 6:5); consequently, He had addressed the solution to the heart problem through the presence of His Son living in the heart of man. The Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ. But now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Gal. 4:24-25, NIV) The law “supervised” so that the righteous requirements of God as revealed through the law could be maintained and His wrath avoided.

God Has Not ChangedGod has not changed. He still has the same righteous requirements and will continue to visit His wrath upon the disobedient and the rebellious. His “grace” does not cover these challenges to His authority and holiness. Paul writes, Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him. (Romans 5:9-10, NIV) We ought not be confused concerning this matter. His wrath is avoided through Him…the exercise of His life in the believer.

The avoidance of His wrath is NOT through His death but through His life. Paul wrote that the mystery of God which had been kept hidden for ages and generations is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1: 27) The wrath of God is avoided through the life of Christ within the believer…by the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) It is the Spirit who will lead in the pursuit of, and if obeyed, the achievement of righteousness leading to holiness. And so God condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Ro. 8:3-4, NIV) And Peter wrote:His divine power [the Holy Spirit] has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV)

According to Peter we have all that we need in order to avoid God’s wrath and that comes through obedience to the Spirit (Heb. 5:9) Paul told the Corinthians: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6, NIV) God’s grace does not give anyone eternal life. It removes his “past sins” and upon confession of Christ’s lordship allows him the enjoyment of the covenant of the Spirit. (Heb. 9:15)

Those who accept that they have been freed from God’s wrath while sin is being practiced will have a surprise one day. They will come under judgment for their rebellion and disobedience. Paul taught, For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one might receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV) the Lord revealed, The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) One’s separation from Christ is dependent upon one’s actions. The things he does and the unlawful things that he causes to happen.

God’s kingdom will be righteous and will contain those who are righteous. His righteous expectations have not changed. His grace does NOT unilaterally allow one escape from His wrath. He is not schizophrenic but is constant in His being and in His expectations. The manner in which righteousness is achieved has changed but not its need. God’s grace, allowed for the incarnation of His Son. It allowed for His Son to bring the word of truth. It provided Christ, an unblemished lamb, as a sacrifice for sin. His grace allows for the gifting of the Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower the believer in a righteous walk. It provides Christ as high priest to mediate for sins committed in ignorance and for confessed sin. The grace of God does not gift eternal salvation but provides all that is necessary for it. Eternal salvation comes through “obedience” (Heb. 5:9) which produces holiness. (Romans 6:22)

January 11, 2016

From Preparation to Full-Time Ministry

NIV Matt. 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

This verse in Matthew is a transitional sentence between to eras in the life of Jesus, and it would be easy to dismiss it as simply that. However there are a number of overtones we don’t want to miss.

First of all it says that Jesus began his public ministry. We tend to characterize this as a ‘rabbinic’ type of teaching, but Matthew is careful to note that Jesus began to preach and then deals with the calling of his particular rabbinical students or disciples.

So what about Jesus the carpenter? Did he give his notice on Thursday afternoon, saying to the others he worked with, “I’m starting a new job on Monday, you can mail my last paycheck;” or did he phase out of carpentry work gradually? After he started preaching, what if someone needed their table fixed? Did he continue to do that type of work?

I’m going to say probably not. We have a good example in scripture of bi-vocational ministry in the life of the Apostle Paul (and others he ministered with, such as Lydia) but there’s no indication that Jesus continued doing the work of his earthly father Joseph. I would prefer to think of his teaching ministry as an all-in, full-time, abandoning-all commitment; the complete object of his time and devotion.

The second half of the verse is a reference to John the Baptist who we understand as also involved in full-time peripatetic ministry. Jesus picks up the teaching ministry of his forerunner, which begins in a call to repentance.

He does this only after learning that John has been imprisoned:

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.

and this of course comes only after a time of testing:

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

This temptation culminates a time of preparation which begins with Jesus discussing the scriptures with the rabbis at age 12 in the temple:

Luke 2:46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers…49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

and then in our key verse for today (17) the scene has changed, his teaching ministry commences, as the Asbury Bible Commentary describes:

The proclamation of Jesus contains two major and interrelated elements. The first is the announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near. The kingdom of heaven is a central theme in this gospel; therefore this phrase deserves special comment.

In Matthew’s gospel, “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are used interchangeably. They mean the same thing. The kingdom of God is a dynamic concept referring to the active reign of God. In fact, it is better translated “the rule of God.”

This concept stems primarily from the Jewish understanding of the two ages. The Jews divided all of history into two periods: (1) the present evil age, under the immediate control of Satan; and (2) the age to come, when God will break the power of evil and usher in his kingdom through his Messiah. Mt 4:17 therefore declares that the long-awaited rule of God has now drawn near (to the point of having already arrived; cf. 12:28) in the person of Jesus.

The second major element in 4:17 is the call to repentance. It is not enough to hear that the kingdom of God has arrived; persons also must respond to this message. And the only appropriate response is repentance. The term literally means “changing of the mind” (metanoeo), and in this context it involves orienting all of life, both thinking and behavior, around one ultimate reality: God now rules in the person of his Son, Jesus.

This will be the status-quo of ministry life for Jesus until the next scene change, the next time we see the phrase “From this time on.”

Matt 16 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

The Bible Panorama describes chapter 4 of Matthew in four terms:

  • Devil Resisted
  • Darkness Dispelled
  • Disciples Called
  • Divine Results

The latter is a reference to verses 23-25

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

What about you? Is it time for you to begin your ministry?


Today’s thoughts prepared with free study resources available at BibleGateway.com

January 22, 2015

Longing for the End of Tyranny, Injustice, Inhumanity and Oppression

Today’s thoughts from Clarke Dixon are very timely.  To read this on his blog click the title below. You can leave comments here or there, but if you comment at Clarke’s blog he is more likely to read it sooner. We really appreciate him allowing us to use his material on a weekly basis.

Inhuman Empires and a Very Humane Ruler

There is a lot of bad news throughout the world with people seeking power through violence. Daniel had some bad news for God’s people in exile about successive beastly and violent empires:

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:  2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,  3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.  4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it.  5 Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, “Arise, devour many bodies!”  6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it.  7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns.  8 I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly. (Daniel 7:1-8 NRSV)

Most Biblical scholars see these four beast as representing the four empires that were in control from the time of Daniel. The lion is Babylon, the bear is Persia, the leopard is the Greek conquest of Alexander the Great, the terrifying fourth beast is Rome. So far this is all bad news for God’s people. But in Daniel’s vision there is good news:

9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14 NRSV emphasis mine)

The good news is the judgement of evil, and the appointment of a new ruler. The contrast of this new ruler to the old regimes could not be clearer, for where the beasts come up from the sea, the appointed ruler comes from heaven. Also, where the empires are described as beasts, and so inhuman, he is described as being “like a son of man,” so quite humane. With Daniel’s prophecy in mind let us move forward in time and see how things work out. Let us go to Jesus’ calling of Nathanael:

49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:49-51 NRSV emphasis mine)

Here we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and already Nathanael is speaking about the identity of Jesus: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Perhaps most were thinking that Jesus should rather be identified as “carpenter, the son of Mary, and perhaps Joseph.” So Nathanael’s confession of Jesus’ identity is very lofty indeed. But Jesus points the disciples toward an even sharper confession of identity: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” The angels of God ascending and descending is a reminder of Jacob’s ladder and as such causes us to think of Jesus as the person where we meet God. Previous to Jesus that distinction was given to a place, the Temple. But we should also take note that Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man.” Some will say that this an expression simply means “human being,” and so ,though Jesus uses it to refer to himself very often, perhaps he means nothing special by it. But notice how Jesus uses it once he is arrested:

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. ’”
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:60-64 NRSV emphasis mine)

At his conviction Jesus confirms what he has been meaning by “Son of Man” all along. He is the ruler God appoints in Daniel 7. He is the one who will end tyranny and oppression. He is the one who will bring justice. He is the good news.

So what do we learn from this?

First, we must think about the identity of Jesus. Many people in our society see Jesus as being a great moral teacher and nothing more. Some suggest that Jesus never pushed himself as being more than a moral teacher, that his divinity is a fabrication of his followers. But had Jesus been a great moral teacher and nothing more would he have been crucified? Notice the tipping point that caused the High Priest to declare that Jesus must die; It was Jesus calling himself the “Son of Man” who would be “coming with the clouds of heaven.” It was his blatant reference to himself as the coming ruler Daniel 7 points to. Do you go far enough in your understanding of who Jesus is? Have you really considered the Biblical teaching that Jesus is “Son of Man,” “Son of God,” and “God the Son?” Have you considered the evidence that the Biblical teaching is rooted in the teaching of Jesus himself and is not a later fabrication? Have you considered how He fulfills the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament?

Second, Jesus is the solution to the problem of inhuman empires today. How many empires and nations across our world could we describe as “beastly?” If rulers everywhere were to follow the example and teaching of Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of love, this would be a vastly different world, a more humane one.

Third, people and nations may ignore Jesus and his teachings now, but they will not be able to in the future. Atrocities are happening around the world and we wonder “where is justice?” The book of Revelation also reflects the fulfillment of Daniel 7:

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. (Revelation 1:7 NRSV)

Justice is on the way. So also is a ton of love.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20 NRSV)

And He Shall Reign Forever

October 13, 2014

Being Made New, Both Now and in the Future

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
II Cor. 5:17 NIV

Today we feature Canadian author Jeff K. Clarke. You’re encouraged to click the title below to read this at source, and then, choose a category from the bar at the top and read some other articles.

Escaping Escapism – Pulling the Future Ideal of ‘New Creation’ into the Present

It was the apostle Paul who first introduced the New Testament idea of people being made new through the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ. In a number of his correspondences, he chose the phrase ‘new creation’ as a way to capture the essence of Christ’s saving vision for the world.

However, when people think about and attempt to explain what Paul meant by the term ‘new creation,’ the focus primarily centers on salvific concerns that highlight the effects of Christ’s work in us. That is, through Christ, we have been saved from God’s coming wrath and must respond by keeping ourselves pure in order to escape this final judgement.

Unfortunately, our reflections often end there, and as a result, we fail to comprehend the cosmic dimensions associated with the language of ‘new creation.’

The idea of ‘new creation,’ when used to describe followers of Christ, is a companion to the cosmic and futuristic ‘new creation’ promised by God. And, while it does have implications for the personal component inherent to salvation, its focus doesn’t end there. In fact, the personal is meant to be a precursor to and a reflection of the cosmic and fulfilled dimension of ‘new creation’ communicated throughout the biblical witness. Unfortunately, we normally embrace the personal dynamic, only to abandon the universal.

Embracing the cosmic focus of ‘new creation’, however, offers us a remedy to our traditional lack of concern – often displayed in much of contemporary evangelicalism – for present earthly realities, i.e., ecological, environmental and social issues.

Rather than try to escape this world and launch into the world to come, the promised ‘new creation’ should create the opposite effect; it ought to inform and shape those who have been made new, now.

Ideas that center on notions of escape have no voice in the teachings of Jesus. The salt and light of the Christian’s witness is not to be removed from the present order, but remain within it, effecting positive influence by reflecting tomorrows realities today.

God’s kingdom comes to earth in and through those who have been made new and precipitates the promised, future and fully realized kingdom inaugurated by Jesus. As a result, we don’t live to escape this world, but seek to find ways to express the realities of the world to come, now.

This captures the kingdom ethic of Jesus. His sermon on the mount is an invitation to live out his kingdom vision in the present. The Spirit enables Christ followers to emulate their leader in such a way that the kingdom brought near in Jesus is to be seen with increasing clarity in and through his followers. This ought to permeate the essence of our communal witness (words and works) to Christ.

If we are to abandon anything, it should be our ideas of escapism. Such a notion causes us to neglect present concerns because we believe they really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s as if we think God only cares about tomorrow and not today. This is inaccurate at best and an obvious misreading of scripture.

If Christ came to save the world, shouldn’t we too be about our Father’s business?

By embracing the present and infusing it with the future, God’s kingdom vision of a cosmic ‘new creation’ will one day be realized.

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’

April 14, 2014

Jesus Responds to John’s “I Should be Baptized by You”

Matt 3:13Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him.…

Believer's Baptism

This is a sample article from a great series — Jesus’ Baptism and Ours — by Mark Love which ran at the blog Dei-Liberations.  There is some really good study material here. To see it all, click through for this article and then click the top of the page and then scroll down to the first post on March 25th, 2014; and then scroll up to read each article. This one was titled Jesus Baptism and Ours: I Should Be Baptized By You.

In both Matthew and Luke, John the Baptist protests Jesus’ request to be baptized. “I need to be baptized by you. And do you come to me?” We understand John’s reluctance. Jesus seems to us an unlikely candidate for a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. For John, though, Jesus’ desire to be baptized seems to be more tied to their relative status regarding the restoration of Israel. John is the forerunner, the path straightener, the warm-up act. As Luke records John’s response, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, whose sandals I am unworthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus is greater than John and his baptism is greater. The roles here are reversed.

The one who is greater is making himself the least. And this is the shape of the coming Kingdom of God.

In the movie, The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays a pentecostal preacher who commits a murder and escapes Texas for Louisiana to avoid the law. Duval’s character has done a terrible thing and needs forgiveness from God to be restored to his calling. So, in an amazing scene, he baptizes himself–three times–and emerges from the river, not only forgiven, but promoted. He is now an apostle. I’m not sure which is more audacious, calling yourself an apostle or baptizing yourself.

Baptism requires someone besides you. It’s a mediated act. Our way to God passes through another’s life. This is the way salvation would have to be if our besetting sin is self-centeredness. It’s different than saying a prayer or some other act that is only internal to us. Jesus can’t be only in our hearts, but must be external to us as well, calling us out of our selves and into life with and through others. In this sense, baptism is not something we do, but something we receive. In fact, in baptism we completely rely and trust another to bring us up from the watery grave. We are vulnerable and submissive (in the easiest baptisms, at least. I’ve had a few fighters). We are not the active agents in the act of baptism. Someone else is.

When my father baptized me, he represented both Christ and the community of Christ. I did not originate this story and it’s truth doesn’t depend on me. In baptism, I am being claimed by realities greater than myself.

And this is the way of the Kingdom of God. As I argued in the last post, John’s summons to repentance and forgiveness of sins would have been heard as an end to Israel’s long exile and the coming nearness of the Kingdom of God. Israel will be restored to a central place in God’s covenantal purposes for all of creation. But the nature and shape of participating in the Kingdom of God will be surprising and require repentance. Namely, it will require God’s chosen one to submit to God in everything, including death on a cross. This is not just so that God can get God’s way. This is because loving submission and covenantal trust are God’s way. This is what the world looks like when God’s rule and reign are operative.

So, it is not surprising to see Jesus come to John for baptism. First, he is aligning himself with a movement that anticipates the coming Kingdom of God. Second, the very nature and shape of that movement is based on those who are great becoming the least. The baptism of Jesus echoes throughout the rest of the gospel story. “If you want to find your life, you must lose it… The greatest will be the least, the servant of all…the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve… not my will, but yours be done.”

When we are baptized, hopefully we are saying the same things. We are aligning our lives with the good news of God’s coming kingdom and are recognizing that power in this kingdom is expressed as submission and service.

November 29, 2013

A Sermon for Reign of Christ Day

Luke 23:33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

At my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, you’ll find repeated references to Nadia Bolz-Weber — like this one — but we’ve never used here material here. Nadia, the founder and pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, is a very controversial Lutheran pastor. Actually, let me amend that, she’s controversial-looking, but when you get past the outward appearance, she is surprisingly orthodox in her beliefs and teaching.  This is taken from her most recently-posted sermon text on her blog, there’s also a link where you can click to listen along as you read. Most sermons, like this one, run 11-12 minutes.   Click to read, Losers, Amish and the Reign of Christ.  (Again, please note what follows is only an excerpt.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber…I’ve been obsessed all week with the fact that three times in this text during his crucifixion, people say to Jesus, “save yourself”.

Seriously Jesus, you healed the sick and raised the dead and performed wonders and miracles, so we know you have it in you…for God’s sake man, save yourself. If you are the son of God, if you are the messiah, then why on Earth are you allowing yourself to be humiliated like this. Make it stop.  You’re embarrassing us.  And why are you being such a loser, anyway?

See, we humans tend to be obsessed with winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, good people and bad people. And we can only win if someone else loses. This is the game. Some win, some lose. It’s everywhere.

And that win-lose, good-bad, insider-outsider thing we are all engaged in?…I know this is a little pop-psychology-y but think that it is somehow linked to our own fear of death and loss and fear that we are not loved.  So we fight, and compete and argue based on principle. Or we send passive aggressive emails when we feel wronged.  Or we talk trash about someone who has hurt us.  All of which I have either done or considered doing in just in the past week alone, but none of which will ever fend off loss or convince me I am worth anything in the ways I think they will in the moment.

Which is where Jesus enters the story…annoyingly.

Jesus shows us that these strong at the expense of the weak, rich at the expense of the poor, good at the expense of the bad ways of being together debases everyone involved.  The bully is as dehumanized by bullying as the victim.

In our win-lose way of understanding things it would have made a lot more sense for Jesus to have come and be a superhero, kicking ass and taking names. Showing everyone how strong God is by winning at our game.

Instead, at the cross we see that Jesus came and showed us how strong God is by voluntarily losing at our game.

No wonder people kept yelling “save yourself!” If you are God, then have some self-respect. Because that’s what we would do. But that’s the thing about God.  God doesn’t seem nearly as interested in self-preservation as we are.  God isn’t self-preserving, God is, by nature, self-giving…not in the way that keeps abused women abused.  But in the way that loves the abused and the abuser. Which is to say, God is self-giving in ways that don’t seem to make a lot of sense to our ideas of win-lose, right-wrong, insider-outsider.

And that’s the reign of Christ.

He’d been trying to tell us this the whole time: by having a mom without status, and there being no room in the Inn for his birth, and by gathering around him, not a team of all-stars, but a motley crew of losers…He tried to teach us maddening things – things that destabilize our systems of trying to get-over on people by saying that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  If you want to find your life then lose it. The greatest among you must become servants. If someone slaps you offer them the other cheek as well. If someone asks for your coat, give them your shirt too.  Why? Because like being right about everything… It doesn’t matter.  All of this losing can happen and we will still be ok.

None of this losing matters because the source of our worth, the source of our dignity, the source of our lovability does not lie in the – who is right who is wrong, who is good who is bad, who wins and who loses game. Our worth, dignity and lovability lies in Genesis 1:26 and our having been created in the image of God.

I think this imago dei, this image of God, creates in us a longing for what is real and beautiful and redemptive. And even as we are drawn to self-preservation and the game of winners and losers, there is something in us that always knows it’s all a lie.

I think this is why, despite the countless stories of revenge that could be told, that story from 2006 of the shooting at an Amish school continues to be told and continues to pull at that place inside all of us, the imago dei, reign of Christ, kingdom of heaven place that longs for the Gospel. On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts walked into a one-room Amish school house and shot 10 young girls before taking his own life. The response of the Amish community was not one of self-preservation, saving themselves, revenge, or winning in any way.  The response was one of pure Gospel and this is why it is still told to this day. We recognize the real thing when we see it.

Amish community members affected by the shooting offered forgiveness.  They refused to hate. Instead they visited and comforted the shooter’s widow.  Reportedly, “one Amish man held the shooters sobbing father in his arms, for as long as an hour, to comfort him”[1].

I may feed my desire to be right, to get over on others, to make people who have harmed me pay for what they’ve done by narcotically consuming movies, TV shows and video games that indulge my revenge fantasies. But it’s an empty high and then I crash. But the reign of Christ is significantly quieter than a Jean Claude Van Dam movie.  Jesus of Nazareth kept saying the kingdom of God is like things that are hidden and small and easily missed. He also said that the kingdom of God is within you. Quiet, hidden, small, easily missed.  But unmistakably THERE. There within the image of God from which you were created, is the kingdom of heaven, wanting to be known, wanting to be expressed, wanting to be lived and absolutely lighting up when it hears the real thing. Within it is your beauty, your value, your dignity. And it has absolutely nothing to do with being right, or making your point, or saving yourself or winning or losing.

Catholic theologian James Alison puts it this way – he claims that at the cross it is as if God is saying to us:

“I’ll occupy that space of loserdom to show you that I’m not out to get you, that I really do like you. Then you need no longer engage in that awful business of making yourselves good over against, or by comparison with each other. Instead you can relax about being good, and as you relax you will find yourselves becoming something much better, much richer in humanity than you can possibly imagine.”[2]

And I have to believe that the Image of God within us, that source of our worth and dignity and lovability from where our longing for truth and beauty comes – is nourished and honored every time we come here and once again hear that we are loved like crazy by this crucified God who doesn’t mind losing…

This, brothers and sister, this is the reign of Christ.  It is within you. And the true source of your dignity, worth and lovability… and nothing else matters. Not really. So relax and find yourselves becoming something much richer in humanity than you can possibly imagine. Amen.


[2] James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim; Listening for the Unheard Voice (Raven Foundation)

February 4, 2013

Children of Two Worlds

Exodus 2 (NIV)

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

Christians Live in Two Worlds

Our online friend Clark Bunch at The Masters Table blog posted this a couple of weeks ago under the title Child of Two Worlds.

Moses was born during the time the Hebrews were enslaved to Egypt, and male children were being thrown into the Nile.  Because Pharaoh’s daughter had found Moses floating in a basket and raised him as her own, he grew up in the house of Pharaoh.  Moses became the product of two cultures; his adoptive mother immediately identified him as Hebrew and found a Hebrew women to nurse him.  (Which just happened to be, if you believe in that sort of thing, his real mother.)  But he was raised as a prince of Egypt.  He had a crisis of identity when he saw a Hebrew being beaten by an Egyptian, one of his own people (Ex 2:11) and he struck and killed the Egyptian.  The very next day he tried to resolve a conflict between two Hebrews and was asked who appointed him as judge.  ”Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”  The Hebrews rejected his leadership because they identified him as a member of Pharaoh’s house, and after learning of the Egyptian’s death at his hand Pharaoh sought to kill him.  This is when he fled Egypt for Midian, where he laid low for the next 40 years.

Moses was a child of two worlds that was rejected by both.  All of the events of Moses’ early life were of course orchestrated by God, in order to prepare him to lead the Hebrews from Egypt.  Despite Moses’ objections, God explains to him at the burning bush what he plans to do.  (Moses vs. God lists each argument and God’s response.)  Moses appeared before the Egyptian Pharaoh many times, and was eventually embraced by the Hebrews as their leader whom they both respected and feared.  After the signs and wonders started many Egyptians feared him as well.  It was Moses’ understanding of both cultures that aptly suited him for the job.

Consider the Apostle Paul.  As Saul, he was a citizen of Rome and a Pharisee; highly educated in the Hebrew faith; read and spoke at least two languages and probably more; was zealous in persecuting the Christian faith.  As Paul, his knowledge of the Hebrew scripture and training as a Pharisee made him an excellent defender of the faith.  He debated with the Greek philosophers in their temples, defended himself before Roman governors, and reasoned with Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.  As a child of two worlds chosen by God for the task, he would write half of the books we identify as the New Testament.

Perhaps the most obvious child of two worlds is the Son of God/ Son of Man Jesus Christ.  But what about… yourself?  As citizens of the United States (or Canada, Israel, Australia, etc) we identify with a particular nation.  Within that nation we may relate to one particular culture.  But Jesus told the Roman governor Pilate he only had authority because it was given to him by his Father.  God has established kings and kingdoms, and in a very real sense we all answer to a higher authority.  As a citizen, Jesus yielded to earthly authorities.  He paid his taxes; but he also said give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God.  As Christians we are citizens of the Kingdom.  We are each children of two worlds, with an earthly father and a heavenly father.  Christians have been described as pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land, and also as heavenly ambassadors.  One thing to keep in mind: we will spend a very short time in this kingdom but eternity in the next.  

While Jesus came to earth with a specific mission, Moses and Paul each heard and responded to God’s call.  They were citizens of two worlds that God used to build a kingdom.  In Moses’ case it was a physical one, in Paul’s it was the Kingdom not made with hands.  We are children of two worlds, and should think about what we are building.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-20)

October 28, 2012

A Biblical Understanding of ‘Place’

Gen 15:7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

Jer 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Over the weekend, I have been immersed in the book The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Zondervan). The book deals with life in monastic community as experienced in 2012. In particular, chapters are titled:

1. Why We Eat Together
2. Why We Make Promises
3. Why It Matters Where We Live
4. Why We Live Together
5. Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
6. Why We Share Good News

The verses quoted above introduce what turns out to be the longest chapter in the book, a study of place or location which was fundamental to Israel. This is but a very brief excerpt:

For so many of today, church is a place we go to on Sunday, just like work or school or home are the places we go every other day of the week. Where we live often has little to do with where we worship. This makes it difficult for us to see how we’re called to make our whole life true worship in a place.

But incarnation interrupts us. To confess that Jesus took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood is to see that we are invited to dwell in our places and grow up into “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Eph. 1:23). As the letter to the church at Ephesus demonstrates so well, the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is within us to overcome the “principalities and powers” (6:12) of our present age. A culture of hyper-mobility is not greater than God’s plan to redeem the world through Christ’s body, the church. But Ephesians is equally clear that this power is made manifest in the peculiar way of engagement that we learn from Israel and Jesus: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but … against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that … you may be able to stand your ground” (6:12-13).

If we pay attention to the conquest stories of Israel, we learn that God’s people did not gain their promised land through cunning or military might. They left Egypt through the Red Sea because God made a way out of now way. When they came to Jericho, it was God who made the walls come tumbling down. Israel’s greatest hero, David, won his monumental battle against the Philistine giant, Goliath, by refusing the royal armor and trusting God to use the simple slingshot he carried as a shepherd boy. Over and again, God makes clear that Israel isn’t in charge of securing its own place in the world. “The Lord will fight for you,” Moses says; “you need only to be still (Ex. 14:14).

This standing in place is the posture that the New Testament exhorts the church to maintain. Jesus told Peter, the rock upon whom he promised to build his church, that he should put away his sword in the garden of Gethsemane. The violence of this world’s kingdoms would not be the means by which God would establish the peaceable kingdom here on earth. Jesus’ refusal of worldly power is not, however, a passive submission to the status quo. Jesus stands before Pilate, just as the martyrs would stand before authorities after him, neither backing down nor succumbing to the ways of an order that is passing away. “Fight the good fight of the faith,” Paul exhorted his young disciple Timothy (6:12), recalling that Timothy had made the same “good confession” Jesus made while testifying before Pontius Pilate. It was confession made not so much with his mouth as with his feet. In the power of the spirit, he stood his ground.

~Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Awakening of Hope, pp. 101-103

September 25, 2012

Allowing Anger to Diminish

NIV Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

James Bryant Smith currently has three of the top ten titles at InterVaristy Press: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. I discovered this excerpt in the July 7th issue of the Salvation Army magazine, The War Cry (U.S. edition).

The very first issue of the heart Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount is anger (Matthew 5:21-22).  Many people believe that righteousness is determined by external actions, and therefore if we have not outwardly broken a commandment (e.g., struck or killed someone) we have kept the law and are therefore considered righteous.  But Jesus goes deeper, into the heart, the place from where all actions spring.  he says, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Why?  Is He making it harder to be righteous?  Is he raising the bar so that no one can make it?  Is He more strict than Moses?  No. Jesus understands the human heart – and the heart is His primary concern, not merely outward actions.  The heart full of anger, the heart that hates, is not far from the heart that would murder.  In fact, it is essentially the same inner condition.  All that is missing is the actual act.  Jesus understands that an angry person would actually harm someone if he or she could get away with it.

When Jesus commands His apprentices not to be angry, He is showing us the way to a good and beautiful life.  His command implies that we can actually do it.  Many people cannot imagine living without anger.  But it is possible, otherwise Jesus would not have instructed us to live without it.  Unfortunately, if we hear the command “do not be angry” and think we must do this on our own strength (i.e., in the flesh) we will fail and begin to resent Jesus for commanding it.  For an explanation of how we learn to live without anger, we have to look at the rest of Jesus’ teachings, His overall narratives.

The narratives of the kingdom of God are quite different from our own false narratives.

These kingdom narratives are based on the reality of the presence and power of God.  For Jesus, the kingdom was not simply a nice idea, but a very real place – life with God, which is available to all.  Outside the kingdom we are on our own.  We must protect ourselves, fight for our rights and punish those who offend us. Inside the kingdom of God, life is much different.  God is with us, protecting us and fighting for our well being.  Knowing this, much of our anger will diminish.

James Bryant Smith
In The Good and Beautiful Life