Christianity 201

September 11, 2017

Jesus: Opening Move

Jesus Commences His Ministry

Compare the four gospels and see how Jesus begins his public ministry. At the outset some of the narration involves activities that are somewhat passive on His part. He was visited by the Magi. He is presented to Simeon in the temple by His parents. He is baptized by John. He is tempted by Satan. But the change from passive to active ministry involves the following:

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

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

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Luke also takes four chapters to get to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry:

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John’s perspective, ever unique, involves Jesus at the wedding at Cana:

John 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

John follows this with Jesus clearing the temple courts.
After the calling of the disciples, Matthew follows with the healing of the sick.
Mark also follows with the choosing of The Twelve, followed by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Luke follows with the same story of the man with the demonic spirit who is healed.

So why does all this matter?

First of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus begins with a proclamation of His purpose and then moves to action; mostly ministry to individuals. Being a minister of the Good News involves both proclaiming (preaching, teaching, speaking) and also dealing one-on-one with people.

Is John an exception? Not at all. In John’s gospel, Jesus begins with a sign, and then ministers to the needs of those who are being disenfranchised by the profiteering that is going on in the temple courts and also taking up space in the one part of the temple that was open to everyone, the court of the Gentiles. (This explains, “My house shall be a house of prayer for the nations.)

Secondly, we can’t say we don’t know why Jesus came. But neither can we expect to be able to answer this question with a single answer. We might say,

  • Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and then to triumph over death.

But Jesus doesn’t start His ministry that way. He doesn’t say, “I’ve come to die;” even though John the Baptist foreshadows this with “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Rather, in the above scripture texts, Jesus says of His ministry:

  • To preach “repent”
  • To announce “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (or, “at hand”)
  • To proclaim good news to the poor
  • To proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • To give sight to the blind
  • To set the oppressed free
  • To declare “the year of the Lord” *

* – “the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound” (Amplified Bible)
– “the year the Lord has chosen” (CEV)
– to announce “This is God’s year to act!” (Message)
– “the year when he will set his people free.” (NIrV)
– “the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.” (The Voice)

As Jesus makes His opening moves, he sets out his initial purpose and plan plainly.

August 25, 2017

Even the Weather Obeys Him

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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We’re paying a return visit today to Bryan Lowe and his blog, Broken Believers. Click the title below to read this at source. We had several good articles to choose from, so click through and look around.

Here Be Giants!

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”  Deuteronomy 31:8, NLT

There is an ancient map in London, England dated from 1525, that has some interesting notations written on it. At one edge someone wrote, “From this point there are fiery scorpions.’  And also written, was “Here be dragons.” On the other margin somebody else noted, ‘Here be giants.” But a believer named Sir John Franklin wrote on this same map, “Here is God.”

Certainly cartographic scorpions, dragons and giants seem to be bit quaint. We certainly don’t really believe in such things anymore. Yet the presence of God is true and quite real. He is present, and is quite active in the lives of everyone who has ever used a map of any sort.

35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”  Mark 4:25-41, NLT

The Sea of Galilee actually has four names, and it actually isn’t a sea, but a lake with sweet and good water. The lake is over 13 miles long and 7 miles at its widest point. The way the hills surround the lake can produce waves over 20 feet, due to unique weather pattern that exists today.

The disciples were seasoned fishermen. They had each seen tough times, but what is going to be unleashed on them is far and above anything they have ever seen. They were frightened.

Jesus was pretty much exhausted. He had been ministering for several days. This was a stretch. A trip across the lake would give Him a definite break. He is so tired, He falls asleep, using a “boat cushion” as a pillow. He is soon sound asleep.

The disciples seem to respect Jesus’ need for rest. But it all gets chaotic and confused quite quickly. None of them had experienced such a terrible storm. They woke Jesus up, and strongly suggested that He do something decisive. Otherwise, they would all be lost.

Jesus was awakened to another need. My guess is that He needed more sleep, but the present moment He needed to speak boldly into this ugly storm. The waves are quite nasty, but at His Word spoken, everything becomes quite serene.

His disciples are undone. They simply draw different conclusions. What they have just seen strips them down to a basic level. The deep presence of Him takes apart of all they understand. God takes them apart, and they end up in a very interesting position.

Our perceptions shouldn’t alter the presence of God. He is our steady rock in our ‘quicksand world.’ He shuts down our storms. You can truly rest with Him in your boat, controlling the storms.


Related: If you grew up in your church you know the song which follows, which is based on today’s scripture text. But if you didn’t give this a listen even if it’s not your usual musical genre.

 

March 29, 2016

The Roman Context at the Time of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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During the time of Christ’s birth, childhood, teaching ministry and death, Israel’s history and Rome’s history are intersecting or overlapping. You can’t read the gospel accounts without somewhere seeing the presence of Rome, and in some respects it looked like Rome was everything that Israel wasn’t. For example:

  • The Roman Empire was big. When Luke records, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed;” we can easily dismiss that the phrase all the world is hyperbole. Were people in China taxed? No. But the Roman empire was, like the guy says in the used car commercial I see every night before the news, “H-U-U-U-G-E.”
  • The Roman Empire was rich. We just mentioned taxation. Maybe Rome didn’t invent it, but the perfected it to both an art and a science. Matthew 22 speaks to the coinage used and the taxation, “[Jesus said] “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s…” And of course we remember that, among others, Matthew and Zacchaeus worked in the multi-level, tax franchise system.
  • The Roman Empire was powerful. The entire narrative of Christ’s life takes place against the backdrop of Roman occupation. Many translations of Matthew 5:41 make it clear that when Jesus says, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two;” the whoever or the someone is a Roman soldier. During the key events that we’ve just remembered at Easter, it a soldier who compels a passerby to help — “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Matthew 27:32) and a soldier who speaks to Christ’s identity after his death: “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!‘”

But Rome had some weaknesses, one of which is that as a family run business the empire was unstable. The fear of insurrection from within no doubt created some insecurities.

So if we want to think of this in terms of a balance sheet we have something looks like this:

Roman Empire

It’s because of this insecurity that Rome’s leadership found the little territory at the east end of the Mediterranean so troublesome. Why did they need to worry? In terms of the above criteria:

  • Israel wasn’t big
  • Israel wasn’t rich
  • Israel wasn’t powerful

And yet, Israel’s army had a history of defeating its enemies against unbelievable odds. They were a feisty lot of people whose Levitical laws compelled them to not assimilate to their surrounding neighbors (or occupying forces) but to maintain a distinct identity. While other nations had crumbled and vanished, Israel had a long, proud history and its people could trace their ancestry back to Adam.

This is one aspect of Jewish tradition that is affirmed in Christian teachings today:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2 ESV)

Therefore, Rome’s only weakness was Israel’s greatest strength: Their longstanding stable history that had even survived occupation. (To look at some well known early history, think of the time of Moses, or the famine period at the time of Joseph.)

How does all this apply to us today?

We should identify with Israel. 1 Cor. 1:26 depicts the early church this way:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

I’ve deliberately held off on our key verse for the day (often at the top of these readings) until the very end and here it is:

Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. ~Daniel 11:32 NKJV
The king of the North will tell lies to God’s people. Those who have not obeyed God will be ruined. But there will be some who know God and obey him. They will be strong and fight back. (ICB)
Israel would never be absorbed, they would never be assimilated.
Today, neither should we. The surrounding culture is big, it’s powerful and it controls a lot of wealth. But it’s built on a crumbling foundation. We are the opposite: small, not powerful and not wealthy but we draw our source; our life from God Himself.

 

February 17, 2016

Who is Jesus?

The Gospel of Mark and the Essential Question

•••by Clarke Dixon

(click the above title to read at source)

Who is Jesus? Your answer to that has huge implications for how you will live your life, and all the decisions, both big and little, you make along the way. It will also have an effect on what comes next after this life, but more on that later. For now as we dig into the Gospels of the New Testament we want to recognize the central question of the gospel of Mark. Who is Jesus? This question of identity is fundamental to Mark’s Gospel. In a Facebook challenge last year I was asked to list my favorite scriptures over the space of ten days. On one day I listed the entire Gospel of Mark as a favorite scripture passage, for while we tend to read the Bible in small chunks, the whole of Mark belongs together. It is the shortest of the Gospels and as such gives us “the Essential Jesus.”

The Essential JesusBut how does Mark even know who Jesus is? Why should we listen? The Christian believers among us will appeal to his writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But there are reasons even the unbeliever should pay attention to what Mark has to say. From the writings of early church fathers we have good reason to recognize Mark as John Mark mentioned in the New Testament, and as a companion to Peter the disciple. Mark is said to have brought together his Gospel based on the preaching of Peter. Therefore what we have in Mark is not something cooked up a century after the facts, but an account based on eyewitness testimony. So the question is therefore not even, “who is Jesus according to Mark,” it is “who is Jesus according to people who were there and knew him?”

So who is Jesus according to the eyewitnesses? What are the earliest conclusions drawn about the identity of Jesus? Let’s look and see some examples of how the Gospel of Mark spells this out:

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” (Mark 1:1-3)

Straight off we are made aware of Jesus being the Son of God, but even more profound is the reference to a prophecy from Isaiah 40:3. John the Baptist in just a few verses says “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (Mark 1:7) The inference from Isaiah 40 is that Jesus is not merely a prophet, nor merely even the Messiah, but rather God Himself. Isaiah 40:3 explicitly refers to God by name. Furthermore, who can baptize with the Holy Spirit but God Himself? “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

Next is a voice at the baptism of Jesus: “And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Next is an unclean Spirit: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24)

Next is the questioning of the religious leaders: “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone” (Mark 2:7) And then a miracle by Jesus to show that he can back up his authority to forgive with authority to heal.

Next are the reports of what people are concluding about Jesus:

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons. (Mark 3:21-22)

Next is the questioning of the disciples at the stilling of a storm: “And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”(Mark 4:41 NRSV)

Next is the confession of a man possessed by a legion of demons: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (Mark 5:7 NRSV)

By now I am sure you are getting the point of how Mark time and again brings us back to consider the identity of Jesus. Next up is an important confession right in the middle of the Gospel:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30)

There are other examples from the following chapters but let us skip forward to what happens following Jesus’ arrest:

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
(Mark 14:61-64 NRSV)

Here Jesus is speaking of his own identity and is pointing to himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7 where the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God’s Messiah who will reign forever.

And finally, we have the identity of Jesus spoken of by the Roman centurion: “Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mark 15:39) The fact should not be lost on us that the centurion stood for the authority of Rome and that he ultimately took his orders from the emperor. But here he witnesses the death of One greater than the emperor.

So why does it all matter? Why does Mark have us wrestle with the question “who is Jesus?” Let us go back to the beginning: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) Jesus was good news to all who met him. You could see that among those who experienced the wisdom of his teaching, and of course the benefits of his miracles. But that good news points us to an even Better News. Early in the book Mark gives us a summary statement of what Jesus was doing:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)

While being healed is good news, being offered a vital connection with God is Good News. God has come to us, which normally should be a terrifying event for sinners like us. But instead of coming to condemn, He has come to forgive and offer salvation. The Kingdom is coming and the Good News is that though we deserve to be rounded up as enemies of the Kingdom, we are welcome instead to be a part of it. Repentance is the way of accepting this offer.

Having considered the first verse, let us now look to the last. According to most Bible scholars Mark has an unusual ending at Mark 16:8 where we find the response of the women to the empty tomb: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8 NRSV) Yes, there are other verses following this one in most Bibles, but if you follow the footnotes you will see that they are probably added later. Many a snake handler in certain churches would have been been wise to check the footnotes and have some respect for Biblical scholarship.

So why does Mark end his account with fear? Actually it is better to say that he does not end his account at all, but rather leaves the ending quite open. Will the women be filled with terror so that they will never speak up about Jesus? Or will they recognize that the death and resurrection is evidence of really good news? The point is, once you grasp the identity of Jesus, and the gravity of that identification, then it is up to you whether the Gospel ends with fear or rejoicing. If Jesus were to return tonight would that be good news to you? Your answer to that will depend on your response to Mark’s question: “who is Jesus?”

December 24, 2015

The Life That Changed the World

Several years ago I was reading a new book by an author completely unknown to me, so I went hunting around the back pages for some kind of “about the author” section, whereupon I learned that he was best known for founding an organization and an annual conference. That type of endorsement is meant to impress, and it does. Certainly I’ve never done those things.

Maybe it was because it was quite late, but my mind went to a piece of prose (sometimes rendered as poetry) known as One Solitary Life. It turns up on tracts, on Christmas cards, and even email forwards.

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had – his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of people on this earth as powerfully as this “One Solitary Life.”

Most sources online credit this to Dr. James Allan Francis.

In light of what I mentioned above, I just wanted to add “he never founded a charitable organization, never established an annual conference.” To which you could add, “He wasn’t on Twitter, He didn’t have a website or a blog, or a Christian television show.”

That reminded me of a section of a quotation from Philip Yancey (see below) which says, “When He did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up;” so I did a search of the phrase “not to tell anyone.”

The healing of a blind man:

Mark 7:35-37

35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The revelation of His identity:

Mark 8:29-31

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Immediately following the transfiguration:

Luke 9:35-37

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

The raising of Jarius’ daughter:

Luke 8:55-56

55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

All of which points us to Phil. 2:6

6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. (CEB)

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage. (HCSB)

I would add, ‘Did not consider equality with God something to be leveraged.’

Despite this, no one who has ever lived as ever affected the history of mankind so richly, so deeply, so powerfully as this One Solitary Life.

“The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen; and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation of a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with the flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had compromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company. “One day miracles seem to flow out of Jesus the next day his power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day he talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, he knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told his disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept him at the center of controversy, but when he he did something truly miraculous he tended to hush it up. As Walter Wink has said, if Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” ~~ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan 1995) p.23

Quotations today are from the New International Version (NIV) except where noted

August 6, 2015

Is Jesus a Person or Just an Idea?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death – Phil 3:10

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” – John 14:9

Today we’re going to do something we don’t normally do — we have “six month” rule — and spend a second day at the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Portland, OR pastor and author Brad Watson. To read this at source, click the title below.

The Scandal of Jesus

Despite the talk about the biblical gospel of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, we rarely stop to take in, reflect, or meditate on the life, character, words, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christianity is nothing without Christ, yet we often rely on second or third hand descriptions of Jesus from books, blogs, preachers, movies, and music. All of these things are helpful and involved people using their gifts to make Jesus clear. However, at some point, to get to know Jesus and understand his message, you have to go to the source and read a Gospel account. Why? Because Jesus is God manifest in human form (Col 1). The fullness of God dwelt in him. He is the Conqueror of Sin, Author of Salvation, Giver of Life, Rescuer from Darkness, and Initiator and Sustainer of All Creation.

Jesus is not an idea but a person. A person who lived, spoke, acted, befriended, rebuked, and made the intentions of God’s love clear. What did he do, what did he say, how did he teach us to be restored humans, and how do you worship and follow him? The answers to those questions are scandalous because he is not a contestant in the competition to be your best friend, but he is claiming and proving himself to be fully God. He is not simply the center of a worldview but God. He is not the example for effective discipleship only, but he is the Savior of the World who descended from heaven into the world.

Making Jesus in Our Own Image

For many years I was content with my favorite stories of Jesus: walking on water and the feeding the thousands. I also had a choice selection of teachings: the beatitudes, the great commission, loving your enemies, and the cost of discipleship. Lastly, I had my favorite parables he told: the prodigal son, the soils, the good Samaritan, and the wedding feast. These weren’t just my favorites; they were my entire playlist.

In the end, I chose to make Jesus into who I wanted him to be. I didn’t take in the whole of his life or his teaching, but the bits and parts that appealed to me most. To me Jesus was the collision of my preferences. He oddly, approved of my political, economic, ministerial, and personal preferences. Jesus had my personality even. Journeying through life proved my Jesus wasn’t enough for me or the world I inhabit. The Jesus I had fashioned was too small.

Making Jesus Our Method

Then, I began to read the Gospels to discover the best way to be a Christian and make other Christians—which is a noble task but not the primary task of reading a Gospel. I wanted the best practices, techniques, and tools for making disciples. I didn’t read them to follow Jesus myself. Stop reading the Gospels to figure out how to “make disciples for Jesus” read it to “be a disciple of Jesus.” That’s when you will make disciple of Jesus.

I realized I was quoting Jesus as a proof for my model of ministry and not worshiping and wondering at God incarnate. The Gospels are theology and story—not pragmatics. It is the most captivating true story about what God is like, what he does, and what he wants for us. The story of Jesus unfolds in our mind as our story. We long to be reminded of our God’s most visible moment. This story changes what we believe, who we are, and the world we live in. The Gospels are not “how-to manuals.” They are theology and story.

You can’t use Jesus to perfect a method. The only effective discipleship models come first from beholding Christ and only then walking humbly in stride with him and the way he loved the Father, submitted to the Spirit, and loved neighbor. The point of the Gospels is not that Jesus chose twelve guys and spent a lot time with them. The point is the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdoms of this world through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the point of the Gospels.

I didn’t know Jesus because I hadn’t tried. I tried to find myself in Jesus (as the hero playing his role), instead of finding God in Jesus. I tried to use Jesus for my purposes, not to glorify him in wonder and worship. I had avoided confrontation with Jesus and it had left me the same. I yearned for transformation in the midst of the holy God who was pleased to dwell as a man on earth.

This month GCD is committing the majority of our articles to the endeavor of knowing Jesus through the Gospel of Mathew. We hope you will join us in the wonder, bewilderment, conflict, and challenge of knowing Jesus.

How to Join Us in This Journey

Read the Gospel of Matthew. One of the reasons Jesus’ life ends up feeling like a random collection of anecdotes and one liners is we rarely read through it all together. We may have done so in our early days of faith but have since neglected it. We invite you to spend August reading the Gospel of Matthew. Read a chapter a day. As you read, contemplate the passage. Here are some helpful questions:

  • What is Jesus saying or doing?
  • What does that say about his character?
  • How are people reacting to him? How does that expose your reaction to Jesus? How would your friend who doesn’t believe in Jesus respond to this?
  • How is Jesus proving to be the true humanity? The true Prophet? The true Priest? The true King?
  • What is most challenging about Jesus?

Pray the Gospel of Mathew. Practice Lectio Divina, Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.

What We Pray and Anticipate Will Happen

You will encounter the scandal of Jesus not being who you want him to be. You will find that Jesus is not a warm cuddly lovable loser. Instead you will discover he is the Prophet who says: This is the truth. You will find that Jesus is not an all accepting cuddly bear. Instead you will discover that he’s the King who says: This is true humanity. You will find that Jesus is not just a philosopher of good ideas on the ideals of life but someone who says: Love looks like and does this. You will find Jesus as the Priest who says: Access to God is closed, but I will make a way to usher you into unity with God. Lastly, there’s the scandal that Jesus is God. You will find a holy, completely other, Jesus.

June 17, 2015

Deliver Us From Deception

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ (Gen 3:1 NRSV)

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” (Luke 11:4b MSG)

and forgive us our sins, for we forgive anyone who owes anything to us; and keep us clear of temptation  (Luke 11:4b Phillips)

YouthGroup

This week’s Wednesday column by Clarke Dixon tied into a youth emphasis at his church this past weekend — which makes it timely after yesterday’s devotional here — but I feel the four principles listed could apply to all of us. Click the link to read at source.

Deliver Them From Evil: Prayers for Our Youth

Since Sunday was “Day of Prayer for Youth Sunday” we can look to making our prayers for youth more specific than a simple “bless ‘em Lord.” The Lord’s prayer in it’s entirety is a great prayer to pray over our youth, but consider especially: “deliver us from evil.” A better translation would be “deliver us from the evil one.” What does the evil one do? We do not need to read too far in our Bibles to find out. The very first thing we find him doing is asking Eve, “did God really say . . .?”  (Genesis 3:1). He sought to deceive, to sabotage Eve’s relationship with God. And he will be whispering in the ears of our youth, “Did God really say? Is that really true?” Perhaps not as a serpent in a tree, but through media, social media, friends, enemies, and yes, in schools, colleges, and universities. This is a key reason youth have been falling away from the Christian faith as they grow into adulthood. It is not staid music, or boring sermons so much as the deceptions of the evil one.

Here are four prayers for our youth reflecting four key areas where the evil one seeks to deceive. (I thank J. Warner Wallace for pointing me in the direction of these four categories in a recent podcast):

1. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Is it really true for everyone?”

Our youth will hear things like “it is true for you, but it is not true for me.” Or put another way, “there is no absolute truth.” There is a very relativistic way of looking at things these days. Let me correct that, there is a very relativistic way of looking at religion these days. This is something we rarely do elsewhere in life. Under normal circumstances the freezing point of water is zero degrees Celsius. But suppose I should say “that’s true for you, but for me it is minus fifteen degrees Celsius.” Being a motorcyclist in Canada how I wish that were true! But if I were to head out in minus fourteen weather, I think you would be quick to point out that I might encounter ice. The point is that truth is real and really important. We depend upon things being true every day. But when it comes to spiritual realities people do not want to commit, and so they pretend truth is not real. That Jesus is Lord is either true for everyone whether they believe it or not, or it is not true for anyone. To quote C.S. Lewis: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Lord, may our youth know the nature of truth. 

2. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really know anything beyond what science teaches?

Here is a common thought: “Science is the only way to know anything.” But is that true? Science works by studying what is, and so that in itself limits its knowledge. I think it was John Lennox who used the analogy of a car, so I’ll use that too, though I’ll not say it as well as Dr. Lennox. Suppose you were to give my Mitsubishi Lancer to a group of scientists to study. They might eventually be able to explain how the whole thing works, and they may point out that it works without the need for engineers or factory workers. But you and I know that engineers and factory workers were essential for the very presence of this car. As you study nature you will not find God under the ground pushing up daisies. Yet the daisies would not exist without Him. What the scientists cannot tell you by studying the car itself is anything substantial about the history of the car, the manufacturer, or the people involved in the development of the car and the company. They might come to some knowledge about how that particular car was put together but for anything beyond that you need a historian who will work with other sources of truth. The scientists may make take a stab at the history by an inference that somewhere along the line there was a Mr. Mitsubishi involved in the development of the car. While inferring a founder would be correct it would still be very lacking in truth as there was no Mr. Mitsubishi, it is a Japanese word meaning “three diamonds.” The historian knows this. The scientists cannot tell the historians what to believe about everything. And neither can the scientists tell the theologians what to believe about everything. Their scope of study is too limited. Lord, may our youth enjoy both science and theology.

3. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really trust the Bible?”

All too often people say things like “the Bible has changed so much from the original it cannot be trusted, therefore you can have no assurance that anything in Christianity is correct.” There are two perspectives on this. First there is the perspective of faith. If God is going to reveal Himself we can trust that He will also ensure that the record of His revelation will be accurate and trustworthy. God was not just involved in the original inspiration of the works we know as the Bible, but the editing, collecting, and preservation. Second, there is the secular perspective provided by something called textual criticism. Any work you read from before the invention of printing press has hand written texts in libraries and collections that scholars work with to best determine what the author originally wrote. More often than not the originals themselves have been destroyed or lost, and the copies always have some inconsistencies between them. Sometimes the earliest copy we have of an ancient text was written hundreds of years later than the original. Sometimes scholars have very few texts to work with. Yet no one reads Herodotus or Aristotle and thinks “this is unreliable to the point of being useless.” The amazing thing is that with the New Testament we have thousands of texts to work with and some of them are dated quite close to the original writing. The evidence that the texts are reliable is overwhelming. Lord, may our youth have confidence in the Bible.

4. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Did Jesus even exist, never mind rise from the dead?”

Here is another common deception “you can’t prove that anything Christians say about Jesus is true.” On his existence, if you deny that, then practically everything you think you know about ancient history ought also to be denied. Some people are happy enough with that, but very very few serious historians will take that route. As for the resurrection of Jesus, if you come to the Bible with a belief already in place that miracles can never happen, that a dead man could never rise from the dead, then of course no evidence will be sufficient for you. You will be left, however, with a group of documents we collectively call the New Testament, with no real understanding of how they came to be, or how or why the writers came to write them. The existence of so many divergent theories about Jesus is evidence that scholarship is at a loss for explanation. However, if the door is open even a crack to the existence of a miracle working God, then the resurrection of Jesus becomes the simplest explanation as to why the writers of the New Testament wrote what they did. All the things written, all the things believed, and all the lives changed and laid down in service of Jesus, it all comes together and just makes sense. The evidence we have leads to the resurrection as the simplest and best explanation. Lord, may our youth know that Jesus lives . . . and loves.


Image: Youth Alive, Pottsdown New Life Assembly of God, Pottsdown, Pennsylvania

March 17, 2015

100 Memory Verses from Matthew

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Because the scriptures have life, we print scripture verses here in green. So for St. Patrick’s Day it seemed fitting to run a post consisting entirely of scripture verses in green. The author of this piece is credited as Joe Putnam and it appeared on the blog of someone named Clark, but not the same Clarke as writes here weekly. To read this at source — where there is some additional highlighting we weren’t able to capture here — click the link below.

100 Memory Worthy Verses from the Gospel of Matthew

Every verse in the book of Matthew is worthy to be memorized.

But since that’s probably not possible for most people, what are some of the most memory worthy verses? What are some verses that every Christian should know and treasure?

To help with this, I recently read through the Gospel of Matthew over the past month and underlined the verses that really stood out to me–verses that I thought deserved to be memorized, prayed over, and treasured.

If you’d like to read this list, it’s included below. I hope these verses help you to know the Lord Jesus in a deeper and more intimate way…

Jesus’ birth and anointing

1:18 Now the origin of Jesus Christ was in this way: His mother, Mary, after she had been engaged to Joseph, before they came together, was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit

1:20-21 20 But while he pondered these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife, for that which has been begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.

1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel” (which is translated, God with us).

3:17 And behold, a voice of of the heavens, saying, This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight.

Christ’s being tested in the wilderness

4:4 But He answered and said, It is written, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God.”

4:7 Jesus said to him, Again, it is written, “You shall not test the Lord your God.”

4:10 Then Jesus said to him, Go away, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”

The kingdom decree

5:3-11 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. 11 Blessed are you when they reproach and persecute you, and while speaking lies, say every evil thing against you because of Me.

5:13-14 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has become tasteless, with what shall it be salted? It is no longer good for anything except to be cast out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. It is impossible for a city situation upon a mountain to be hidden.

5:16-17 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in the heavens. 17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.

5:32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries her who has been divorced commits adultery.

5:42 To him who asks of you, give; and from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away.

5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

6:6 But you, when you pray, enter into your private room and shut your door and pray to your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

6:8-13 8 Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows the things that you have need of before you ask Him. 9 You then pray in this way: Our Father who is in the heavens, Your name be sanctified; 10 Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth, 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

6:19-21 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on the earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves dig through and steal 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not dig through nor steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

6:24-25 24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 Because of this, I say to you, Do not be anxious for your life, what you should eat or what you should drink; nor for your body, what you should put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

6:31-34 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, With what shall we be clothed? 32 For all these things the Gentiles are anxiously seeking. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself; sufficient for the day is its own evil.

7:7-8 7 Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.

7:14 Because narrow is the gate and constricted is the way that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

7:22-23 22 Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, was it not in Your name that we prophesied, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name did many works of power? 23 And then I will declare to them; I never knew you. Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.

The continuation of the Lord’s ministry

8:20 And Jesus said to him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.

9:12-13 12 Now when He heard this, He said, Those who are strong have no need of a physician, but those who are ill. 13 But go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

9:37-38 37 Then he said to His disciples, The harvest is great, but the workers few; 38 Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest that He would thrust out workers into His harvest.

10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore prudent as serpents and guileless as doves.

10:19 But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious about how or what you should speak, for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.

10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna

10:39 He who finds his soul-life shall lose it, and he who loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it.

11:11 Truly I say to you, Among those born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptist, yet he who is least in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he.

11:12 But from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence, and violent men seize it.

11:28-30 28 Come to Me all who toil and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

12:8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

12:29 Or how can anyone enter into the house of the strong man and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will thoroughly plunder his house.

12:36-37 36 And I say to you that every idle word which men shall speak, they will render an account concerning it in the day of judgement 37 For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.

12:50 For whoever does the will of My Father who is in the heavens, he is My brother and sister and mother.

13:23 But the one sown on the good earth, this is he who hears the word and understands, who by all means bears fruit and produces, one a hundredfold, and one sixtyfold, and one thirtyfold.

15:3 And he answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?

16:16-19 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in the heavens. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you bind on the earth shall have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you loose on the earth shall have been loosed in the heavens.

16:24-26 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me 25 For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; and whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what shall a man be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul-life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul-life?

17:5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud saying, This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight. Hear Him!

17:20 And He said to them, Because of your little faith; for truly I say to you, If you have faith like a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

18:3-4 3 And said, Truly I say to you, Unless you turn and become like little children, you shall by no means enter into the kingdom of the heavens. 4 He therefore who will humble himself like this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens.

18:18-20 18 Truly I say to you, Whatever you bind on the earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on the earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I say to you that if two of you are in harmony on earth concerning any matter for which they ask, it will be done for them from My Father who is in the heavens. 20 For where there are two or three gathered into My name, there am I in their midst.

20:26-28 It shall not be so among you; but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 And whoever wants to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

22:37-39 37 And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Preparation for Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming

24:4-8 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for it must happen; but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom will rise up against kingdom; and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places

24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.

24:27 For just as lightning comes from the east and shines to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

24:37-42 37 For just as the days of Noah were, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day in which Noah entered into the ark, 39 And they did not know that judgement was coming until the flood came and took all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 At that time two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day our Lord comes.

25:21 His master said to Him, Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful over a few things; I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.

28:18-19 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you all the days until the consummation of the age.

Note: All of the verses in this post were taken from the Recovery Version translation of the Bible.

November 7, 2014

The Great Mystery of Christ

Today we introduce you to Ros who has been blogging at Seven Notes of Grace since December, 2011. You’ll find a number of tabs at the top with different categories and links, many of which are devoted to music. Simply click the title below to read at source and then take a few minutes to look around the site.  This post is in a series on the “three-sixteens” in scripture…

The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)

mystery_of_godlinessAs we arrive at 1 Timothy 3:16 (in the Three Sixteen series) Paul tells Timothy about the importance of godliness in the church, the church being the pillar and foundation of the faith. The church has been entrusted with the Gospel, with proclaiming Christ to the world. Paul lays down guidelines for selecting overseers and deacons in the church, for teaching, for prayer. Then he includes this apparently random summary statement about the great mystery of Christ:

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs* is great:
He appeared in the flesh,

    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.”

This is a great summary about Jesus, his life and purpose, and makes a great 3:16 verse! But Paul is actually quoting lines from a well known hymn of the early church. The IVP New Testament Commentary has some good insights about the relevance of Paul’s words:

Now Paul’s citing of part of what was surely a well-known hymn in the course of writing instructions for behavior in the church is to bring his readers to the point of corporate response. The hymn itself, like many in the New Testament, celebrates Christ’s appearance and ministry on earth. The introductory phrase is a call to consider the implications of this grand event, to evaluate our conduct on the basis of what we confess. . . . Consequently, this phrase ‘the mystery of godliness’ forms a connection between the appearance of Christ, which the hymn celebrates, and Christian living: the mystery is the essence of godliness. It was critical for Paul to remind the readers of this principle, for the false teachers were successfully driving a wedge between belief and behavior with damaging results. In our day of institutionalized atheism and the popular heresy of humanism, the church faces the same danger. Even if dangers of this sort seem remote, we easily forget the practical implications of what we believe and profess to be true.” 

So this is a great verse not just because it celebrates Christ’s work, but because it connects his glorious saving work with our behaviour. We are to walk worthy of Christ’s saving work for us.  His work is finished, we don’t have to earn it! But we are called to live godly lives that point to Him as we, the Church, safeguard and pass on the Truth of His Saving work.

(*Note: if you look at other versions of this verse you may find that it simply says “the mystery of godliness” or the “mystery of our faith” – but the newest NIV translation seems to have hit the proverbial nail by phrasing it “the mystery from which true godliness springs”. True godliness will grow in us when we have build our life on Christ!)

 

Click here to read more blog posts in the Three Sixteens series.

October 28, 2014

Parables Aren’t Fantasy; Based in Reality

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:17 pm
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Acts 1 8

I would expect all readers here are familiar with the parable that we call The Good Samaritan. As with most parables, we believe Jesus invented the story on the spot. It begins in most translations “A certain man.” Only once — with Lazarus and the rich man — is the character in a parable even given a name.

The surprise ending of course is:

NIV Luke 10:33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

It’s easy to say at this point that Jesus made the hero of the story a Samaritan for shock value. The story could stand — albeit not as forcefully — with one of his own people bandaging his wounds and offering to pay for his care at the inn. But were there good Samaritans?

Of course there are. There are good and bad in any sect you wish to define by drawing lines.  There are good and bad Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics and Mormons. As I write this, news stories in my native Canada remind me that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. It’s wrong to stereotype.  But Jesus’ statement picture of a good Samaritan is revealed just a few chapters later, in Luke 17 in the story of the healing of the ten lepers:

NKJV Luke 17:15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

That was a real life situation, not a parable. (I hesitate to say, this was a situation over which Jesus had no control; but theologically and practically that is incorrect. He could have easily placed it in the heart of the one man to return and give thanks; but it defeats the purpose of Luke’s inclusion of the detail if you’re going to dismiss it by saying Jesus supernaturally manipulated the post-healing moment.)

The point is that Samaritans, like any other group both then and now, should not be subject to stereotyping or profiling.

A study of Samaritans in scripture also reveals some paradoxical moments:

In Matthew 10, we see Jesus sending out the disciples with these words:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.

But as Jesus enters a later phase of his ministry he does just the opposite:

NIV Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

But the Samaritans don’t receive him. This is the only place in scripture where they are cast negatively. If you’ve read the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman at the well, you might think the key to verse 33 is Jerusalem itself.  After all she says,

NIV John 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

But the IVP NT Commentary suggests a broader theme:

The explanation is that Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. In other words, rejection is his fate. Even though that rejection will occur in the capital of Israel, the Samaritan reaction mirrors that coming reality. The world is not responsive to Jesus; rejection is widespread.

The commentary on the verses that follow 53 is also interesting:

James and John ask for the ancient equivalent of nuking the enemy: “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The disciples understand the great power they have access to, but the question is whether vindictive use of this power is proper. Is their hostile reaction justified? The request for “fire from above” recalls the ministry of Elijah (2 Kings 1). In their view, surely rejection means instant judgment.

Jesus corrects them. The text does not tell us what he said. In a story that is a little unusual in form, it simply notes that Jesus rebukes them and they move on to the next village. Many Gospel accounts end with a climactic saying of Jesus, a pronouncement that is key to the event in question. Here Jesus’ action speaks for itself. There is no saying; rather, the disciples’ saying becomes a view to be rejected emphatically

The disciples reaction is amazing considering that this passage almost assuredly follows chronologically the parable and the healing. Biases and prejudices do not disappear easily.

So who are the Samaritans in your life? In mine?

We’ve shared before about this verse:

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

and with this we’ll end today.

…Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends.  (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.”  Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however.  He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world.  Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission.  In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to.  Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea.  Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to.  Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do.  Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence.   Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically.   Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

 

March 15, 2014

Was Jesus the Recipient of Grace?

A conversation joined in progress…

“…she never brings anything to a potluck dinner, they just show up. He never comes to a church work day. They don’t attend Bible studies or prayer meetings.”

“But what’s that to you?”

“I think we’d all like to know if they’re all in.”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“Because it would be nice to have a conversation with them that wasn’t superficial; that wasn’t just all about the weather and the school their kids go to. It would be nice to know where they stand.”

“Why don’t you just ask them? Say, ‘So what’s God been doing in your life lately?’ Or, ‘What’s God been teaching you lately?”

“You can’t just start a conversation cold like that.”

“Maybe not at the grocery store, or with a relative stranger, but this is church, you sit in the row behind them every single week.”

“It would be awkward.”

“So here’s a question for you: Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“Wait. What?”

“Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“That’s just wrong.”

“Did Jesus ever experience grace?”

“Grace is for sinners. Jesus was without sin.”

“Are you a sinner?”

“I was a sinner; but now I’ve passed from death into life.”

“Have you ever sinned since? Maybe even this week?”

“Yes. Absolutely. So have you.”

“Does the grace of God meet you in that place?”

“Yes. But that’s different; second Corinthians 5:21 says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’  He had no sin, or some translations say he knew no sin.”

“You just happen to know that verse?”

“It was on a Christian radio on Friday while I was driving to work.”

“And you memorized the reference?”

“My sister’s birthday is 5/21 so that helped.  So when did Jesus experience the grace of God?”

“What is grace?”

“Grace is unmerited favor with God.”

“So the answer is, ‘At his baptism.’  A voice from heaven, the voice of God, says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”1

“And…”

“He experienced the favor of God even though he hadn’t done anything yet. This was the outset2 of his public ministry.  He hadn’t taught anything, he hadn’t called disciples, he hadn’t healed anyone. It was unmerited in the sense that he hadn’t commenced his spiritual work.”

“But he had been alive for 30 years at that point. He always had the favor of God. Luke 2:52 says, ‘Jesus grew…in favor with God and man,’ so this was something he had earned over time.”

“But the people at the Jordan River didn’t know all that. To them, he was simply one of many being baptized for the forgiveness of sin and then God says he is ‘well pleased’ with him. We tend to think of that as more of an end-of-life pronouncement from God, as in ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ 3 In other words, he has already been made a recipient of the favor of God.”

“But that has nothing to do with works, he was well-pleasing to God because of who he was, not according to anything he did. It’s the same with us, like that verse that says, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done…but because of his mercy.’4 There’s nothing that we do that ultimately earns us the grace of God. It’s who we are not what we do.”

“Exactly. So maybe it wasn’t grace in the sense of being freed from punishment because Jesus was, as you said, without sin. But it was a favor with God that preceded everything he was about to do over the next three years.”

“Okay. You could think of that way I suppose, but how did we get on this topic again?”

“The family that sits the row in front of you at church…”

“…Oh…yeah…”

“Could it be the grace of God is working and operative in their lives in ways you just don’t realize?”

“…Hmm…Maybe we need to get to know them a little better…”


1 Matthew 3:17

2Harmonization of the Life of Jesus

3Matthew 25:23

4 Titus 3:5

September 30, 2013

Opening Moves

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Jesus Commences His Ministry

It’s interesting to compare the four gospels and see how Jesus began his public ministry.  At the outset some of the narration involves activities that are somewhat passive on His part. He was visited by the Magi. He is presented to Simeon in the temple by His parents. He is baptized by John. He is tempted by Satan. But the change from passive to active ministry involves the following:

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

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

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Luke also takes four chapters to get to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry:

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John’s perspective, ever unique, involves Jesus at the wedding at Cana:

John 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

John follows this with Jesus clearing the temple courts.
After the calling of the disciples, Matthew follows with the healing of the sick.
Mark also follows with the choosing of The Twelve, followed by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Luke follows with the same story of the man with the demonic spirit who is healed.

So what does all this matter?

First of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus begins with a proclamation of His purpose and then moves to ministry to individuals. Being a minister of the Good News involves both proclaiming (preaching, teaching, speaking) and also dealing one-on-one with people.

In John’s gospel, Jesus begins with a sign, and then ministers to the needs of those who are being disenfranchised by the profiteering that is going on in the temple courts.

Secondly, we can’t say we don’t know why Jesus came. But neither can we expect to be able to answer this question with a single answer. We might say,

  • Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and then to triumph over death.

But Jesus doesn’t start His ministry that way. He doesn’t say, “I’ve come to die;” even though John the Baptist foreshadows this with “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Rather, Jesus says of His ministry:

  • To preach “repent”
  • To announce “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (or, “at hand”)
  • To proclaim good news to the poor
  • To proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • To give sight to the blind
  • To set the oppressed free
  • To declare “the year of the Lord” *

* – “the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound” (Amplified Bible)
– “the year the Lord has chosen” (CEV)
– to announce “This is God’s year to act!” (Message)
– “the year when he will set his people free.” (NIrV)
– “the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.” (The Voice)

As Jesus makes His opening moves, he sets out his initial purpose and plan plainly.

July 22, 2013

New Insights into Zacchaeus

Encounters With JesusThrough the Willow Creek “Midweek Experience” teaching videos, I’ve gotten to hear a number of messages by Wheaton College professor Gary M. Burge. So I was due to read one of his books, especially when I stumbled over a sale-priced copy of Encounters with Jesus: Uncover the Ancient Culture, Discover Hidden Meanings; published in 2010 by Zondervan. Clocking in at only 128 pages — and filled with pictures — finishing this book on Sunday afternoon was no major feat.

With Gary Burge’s voice audibly sounding in my head as I read the book — an advantage to having watched him teach on video — I thoroughly enjoyed his take on five specific encounters Jesus has with:

  1. The woman who was hemorrhaging
  2. Zacchaeus the tax collector
  3. The centurion with a slave who is ill
  4. The thirsty woman at the Samaritan well
  5. The Gentile woman with a sick daughter

In the case of Zacchaeus, I once again found myself in the position of having to potentially un-learn something I had been taught from infancy in Sunday School. Surely anyone who has an encounter is immediately changed, right? Maybe not so much in this case. If the interpretation here is to be considered, then Zacchaeus doesn’t have so much of a before-and-after transformation; rather, Jesus is affirming the person who Zacchaeus has always been, and the “salvation” that has come to “this house” refers more to the saving of Zacchaeus’ reputation in the wider community.

I always thought that Zacchaeus’ speech is a pledge or promise of something he is about to do to make things right, however…

…This is not what Zacchaeus says. His comment to Jesus is in the present tense. “Look! I give half of my possessions, Lord to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I repay them fourfold.” Greek has what we call the “future use” of the present tense and interpreters sometimes apply it here. But this is not demanded. Generally these uses imply some immediacy or certainty…

…But many scholars refuse to use it here in Luke 19. We have no suggestion that Zacchaeus needs to repent, nor does the story imply any conversion on his part. He even refers to Jesus as “Lord,” a mark of high honor and discipleship in Luke. As Joel Green remarks, “On this reading Zacchaeus does not resolve to undertake new practices but presents for Jesus’ evaluation his current behaviors regarding money.”

This would be a great revelation to the electrified audience standing on the street in Jericho. Zacchaeus is not what everyone has assumed. He has been honest; he is collecting what is demanded without corruption and abuse, and he is generously giving away large portions of his wealth. The law required that if there was financial fraud, the original amount had to be returned plus 20 percent. (Lev. 6:5)  Here Zacchaeus practices fourfold reimbursement…

When word of this emerges outside, the crowd that thought it had seen one shocking scene for the day now witnesses another. Their notorious tax farmer, who has colluded with Romans, is a man of principle. Rumors of his corruption are evaporating like a mist… (pp. 67-68)

This approach is entirely new to me. And the above excerpt is just a small portion of the insights into this story. He then goes on to discuss the implications of both “Salvation has come to this house;” and that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham.”

I’m not saying that this interpretation precludes anything else that you’ve been able to derive from the story. The scriptures are rich in depth. I simply offer this to you as a possibility that may be outside how you originally heard and processed this story.

Other books in this series include: The Bible and the Land, Finding the Lost Images of the Desert, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, Jesus the Middle Eastern Storyteller, and Finding the Lost Images of God.

June 19, 2013

Dinner with Jesus

Luke 19:9 J.B. Phillips New Testament

Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today! Zacchaeus is a descendant of Abraham, and it was the lost the Son of Man came to seek—and to save.”

Today’s post by Margaret Manning, a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington, appeared yesterday on the website of RZIM, under the title A Feast of Faith.

Jesus loved to eat. At least that’s what the Gospel of Luke tells us. Throughout Luke’s narrative, Jesus is often coming and going from meals. Interestingly enough, Jesus is often eating meals with a very sundry cast of characters. Early on in Luke’s narrative, Jesus is thrown a banquet by tax gatherers—some of the most unsavory folks in Jesus’s day.

Meals with Jesus were not simply about the food. They were the conduits for spiritual and life transformation. One dramatic example of this transformation occurs with a chief tax gatherer, Zaccheus. And unlike other accounts of meals with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel where he is the invited guest, Jesus invites himself over to dine in Zaccheus’s home. As a result of this dining experience, Jesus gives Zaccheus a new identity as a “son of Abraham,” a title that inflamed the religious leaders of his day. How could Jesus count a scheming, conniving, tax-collecting outsider as a “son of Abraham”—which meant he was a son of the faithful patriarch and a true Israelite? And how did Zaccheus demonstrate faith that garnered Jesus’s commendation?

Understanding his place in society as a chief tax collector provides a necessary backdrop for Zaccheus’s feast of faith. Chief tax collectors contracted with the Romans to collect taxes in a particular town or region. It’s as if he purchased a franchise from the Roman government at a substantial price, and then subcontracted the actual collection of the taxes to a group of men who worked under him. His profit was the difference between the fee paid to the Roman government and the amount of taxes he collected. The system was prone to abuse and rewarded tax collectors for excessive collections.(1) Thus, the Jews saw tax collectors as mercenaries and thieves, and for one of their own to be in business with the Romans meant utter ostracism from the Jewish community.(2) Is it any wonder why all who heard Jesus invite himself over to Zaccheus’s house reacted with grumbling?

Yet, hearing the news of Jesus’s arrival, this much-maligned man pushed his way through the crowds, hoisting up his garments in a most undignified manner just to get a glimpse. Zaccheus had heard the stories about Jesus—his healings, his eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, and his remarkable, authoritative teachings. Now his curious faith compelled him to see for himself if all that he heard was really true.

Even knowing all of this, how surprising it must have been when Jesus invites himself over for dinner! Jesus wants to dine with this one who is despised. In response, Zaccheus overflows with generous gratitude. “Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor” (Luke 19:8). Jesus has asked for nothing but hospitality from Zaccheus, and in response, Zaccheus willingly surrenders half of his wealth. The tax collector’s willingness to let go of half of his wealth demonstrates faith—a faith, just like Abraham. The hospitality of Jesus prompts his faith-fueled donation.

But his faithful response goes beyond gratitude as he seeks to restore justice to those whom he has defrauded. It wasn’t enough for Zaccheus to give away half of his wealth in response to Jesus; he insists on repaying those he has defrauded. The Old Testament requirement for restitution is for the amount defrauded plus one-fifth.(3) But Zaccheus doesn’t simply meet the letter of the law; he offers to repay four times as much as he has defrauded others! Four-fold restitution will impoverish Zaccheus, as he’s already committed to give away half of his wealth. Yet in response to Jesus’s gracious invitation, Zaccheus parts with his wealth as a sign of his saving faith. Jesus declares, “Today, salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).

Like Abraham, Zaccheus responds with faith that prompts action. Voluntarily impoverishing himself, Zaccheus shows that he, too, will live by faith—faith that demonstrates its true character in action. Thus, Zaccheus’s faith also benefits the community around him. At some point after Jesus invites himself to the tax collector’s home, Zaccheus rises—uncoerced, unadmonished, and unprompted—and commits himself to doing justice. For Zaccheus, justice rolls down like waters from the hospitality of Jesus, and it flows into his own faithful demonstration of hospitality towards others: he shares his wealth and restores what was ill-gotten. “Salvation has come to this house”—all in response to a meal. Imagine that. Hospitality—giving both emotional and physical nurture—proves the vessel for transformation. Let’s eat!

 
(1) Research from the website http://www.lectionary.org/luke.
(2) The Tosefta Toharoth notes, “When [tax] collectors enter into a house, the house [is considered] unclean.”
(3) See Leviticus 6:5 and Numbers 5:7.

April 30, 2013

Intricasies in the Jesus Narrative

The story of Jesus is simply incredibly complex. It seems a simple story and for just a little money you can purchase any one of hundreds of Bible story books which will provide the story to children. But as you dig deeper, even a children’s story you’ve heard many times over reveals layers of significance you never considered.

I’m currently reading Jesus, A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. The use of theography is to suggest that while most stories of Jesus are simple biographies that is, they narrate “from womb to tomb,” this one is attempting to begin with “Christ before the manger,” and then move into eternity. While this isn’t meant to be a book review, I’m not sure the book lives up to its own expectations on this and other fronts.

I’ve mentioned before that the ancients viewed scripture as a multi faceted jewel that revealed more and more with each slight turn; capturing and reflecting and refracting light in infinite combinations. To Sweet and Viola, the preferred image is that of a constellation with phrases from various sections combining to form images.

In the case of John’s gospel, the birth narrative is paralleled to the “I am” statements which are unique to that book.

Jesus A TheographyThe seven I AM metaphorical statements of Jesus in the gospel  of John are followed by their corresponding circumstances in the story of Jesus’ birth:

“I am the bread of life.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means  “house of bread.”

“I am the light of the world.”
Jesus was born under the light of the star of Bethlehem.

“I am the door of the sheep.”
The doors of the guest house were closed to Mary and Joseph, but the gate to the stable was open.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Baby Jesus was sought by shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in swaddling bands (used for birth or burial) and lying in a manger.

“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus survived King Herod’s attempt to kill him.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Wise men found their way to him, recognized the truth about him and defied King Herod’s evil plot.

“I am the true vine.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which means ‘fruitful.’

The example above, while not the strongest of the parallels introduced, is fairly typical, and the reader must decide if the this information is significant spiritually or merely reflective of the Bible’s literary value. To the believer and Christ-follower, the Bible has to be more than great literature.

The book is well crafted and well researched and on average, each of the sixteen chapters has about a hundred footnotes. Still, I find a good filter is needed when reading this; each reader has to determine what they want their ‘take away’ to be from each chapter.

Probably more than anything else, the book highlights the issue of reading of Christian books versus only reading the Bible. I am where I am today spiritually because of the influence that Christian writers have had on me. If anything their words have drawn me into a deeper examination of scripture. I am also a strong believer in owning Bible reference material, and I opened the pages of this book fully expecting it to fit into that category.

But instead, I found myself drawn into consideration of matters I would consider secondary issues, and often found my head spinning with the overall complexity of the issues under examination.

Can we know too much? In terms of Bible study is there such a thing as too much information? I believe Jesus: A Theography is on one hand a valuable addition to my library, but on the other hand, it’s important that I not stray too far from the simplicity found in those children’s Bible study books.

Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

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