Christianity 201

October 28, 2014

Parables Aren’t Fantasy; Based in Reality

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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.

March 7, 2013

One Solitary Life

Last night 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.

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 was reading, 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.” 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

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

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

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

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

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)

January 22, 2013

God Journeys With Us

This is from a chapter that falls late (chapter 22) into a recent book by Matt Litton, Holy Nomad: The Rugged Road To Joy (Abingdon Press). The chapter is titled Notes to Self: Building Altars Along The Trail.

Israel’s exodus from Egypt was a serious version of Mr. Short Term Memory. Despite God’s hand in the journey, it took His people less than a month to become restless and dissatisfied. They quickly regress into forgetfulness and worry. The story tells us,

“…the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full, for you have brought us into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

They forget so quickly!

…What would you say if you were god? I would be a little incensed. What about the plagues on Egypt and pillars of fire at night? Destroying the greatest army in the world? And this is what I get? But God remains faithful providing them with water from rocks, food delivered from the sky, and victory over those who would threaten them.

Holy Nomad - Matt LittonThree of the gospels tell of the disciples crossing the Red Sea in a boat. A storm comes upon them suddenly when Jesus is sleeping and they all begin to panic and think that the boat will sink. Jesus awakes irritated with their lack of faith and simply commands the sea to calm down. The Story recounts the chaos of weather and sea was immediately put to rest. Isn’t it curious that these men who walk side by side with the Nomad witnessing his miracles and power would panic knowing that he was with them in the boat?

They forget so quickly.

…Part of being nomadic means we must be intentional about remembering God’s faithfulness. This has been part of the Nomadic practice since the beginning of time. It is first mentioned with Abraham in Genesis as he builds an altar to God after securing a great victory. In fact, Abraham constructs altars so often that you might trace his nomadic adventures by the landmarks he left in his wake. Noah builds an altar after the flood. God commands Joseph to build an altar at Bethel in Genesis 35 to remmbe3r all that God has done for him. From the passover to the Last Supper and down the line through the history of the Bible the Nomadic journey was sustained at times by the “altars” signifying God’s faithful attendance to the Nomad.

Think of this way — we are continuing to write our part in a much greater Story that began in Genesis. It is helpful for us to take a moment in our travels to remember the presence of God not only in our lives but in those who came before us. We remember together with our nomadic ancestors. If we truly believe in Resurrection, then we must realize that we are celebrating together as a family.

When we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas, we remember God’s great gift to us. We are reminded that this gift should move us forward to give to others.

At lent we remember Christ’s journey toward the Cross with reflection that allows us to assess the baggage we are carrying on our travels.

At Easter we are reminded of the great sacrifice of forgiveness. We must be open to accepting the grace we are afforded and pass it on generously to others.

We observe Pentecost to celebrate the Holy Spirit’s movement on the Early Church and the way the Spirit leads us in our journey today.

These traditions are more than the invention of gift card companies, retailers, or national holidays, although they seem to have been hijacked by all three. They are our days.

December 16, 2012

A New Teacher Launches His Church

While looking at the Christmas narrative this week, I decided to cheat and read ahead a little. While we tend to think of Jesus initiating his public ministry in the changing of water into wine at Cana, the closest thing we find to an official ‘launch party’ is his baptism by John in the Jordan River. Today we would hold a rally or kick off an advertising campaign, but after public confirmation of his ministry by both John, the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove), and The Father (the voice from heaven); we instead find Jesus in the wilderness for forty days.

Just as I am sure the twelve disciples looked at the events of Good Friday by saying, “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to end;” it would have been equally fair for someone present at that time to say, “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to begin.” Today is no different. We want to launch ministry with large meetings and newspaper space and television airtime; not with a 6-week fast.

It always amazes me how some key events in scripture are presented so succinctly. The Bible wastes no words; its concision is a model for authors of all types. The 4th chapter in Luke kicks off with just two verses:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

And the section ends with this one we often overlook:

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes: “The words imply that the temptation was renewed later. The Savior lived under the constant pressure of evil.” The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary states it somewhat differently, “The devil does not reappear until 22:3 [what scripture calls “entering into” Judas] but it would be rash to assume that he was inactive during the intervening period. (p. 1035)

Matthew Henry says of this verse:

What was the result and issue of this combat, Luke 4:13. Our victorious Redeemer kept his ground, and came off a conqueror, not for himself only, but for us also.

1. The devil emptied his quiver: He ended all the temptation. Christ gave him opportunity to say and do all he could against him; he let him try all his force, and yet defeated him. Did Christ suffer, being tempted, till all the temptation was ended? And must not we expect also to pass all our trials, to go through the hour of temptation assigned us?

2. He then quitted the field: He departed from him. He saw it was to no purpose to attack him; he had nothing in him for his fiery darts to fasten upon; he had no blind side, no weak or unguarded part in his wall, and therefore Satan gave up the cause. Note, If we resist the devil, he will flee from us.

3. Yet he continued his malice against him, and departed with a resolution to attack him again; he departed but for a season, achri kairoutill a season, or till the season when he was again to be let loose upon him, not as a tempter, to draw him to sin, and so to strike at his head, which was what he now aimed at and was wholly defeated in; but as a persecutor, to bring him to suffer by Judas and the other wicked instruments whom he employed, and so to bruise his heel, which it was told him (Gen. 3:15) he should have to do, and would do, though it would be the breaking of his own head. He departed now till that season came which Christ calls the power of darkness (Luke 22:53), and when the prince of this world would again come, John 14:30.

Jesus public ministry was born out of hunger, out of spiritual struggle, out of personal testing, and out of wrestling with these to a degree to such as none of us have ever known nor will experience. This is how he inaugurated his public ministry. In the next scene he makes his public declaration in the temple that, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (vs. 21)

December 8, 2012

I Am “Again-Rising”

I Am The Resurrection

NIV John 11: 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Carley Evans has a very focused blog, and although she has been featured here twice already, her writing very much suits the kind of thing we were speaking of here yesterday.

Here she notes that in the ministry of Jesus, miracle-working time is not a time for parables. In those moments Jesus is very forthright and makes one of the signature statements about his ministry.

Before we jump in to this, I also want to note Carley’s choice of the Wycliffe Bible for this, as it gets us closer to a literal rendering of what Jesus actually said.  Young’s literal translation echoes this:

25 Jesus said to her, `I am the rising again, and the life; he who is believing in me, even if he may die, shall live;

26 and every one who is living and believing in me shall not die — to the age…

Years ago a pastor shared with me, “Let the translators do the work for you.” I have greatly valued this advice, and if you read today’s thoughts at their source, and then browse older posts, you’ll see that Carley does this. (This one is making me considering getting a print copy of the Wycliffe translation.)

Jesus speaks in analogy or parable quite often, but before asking Lazarus to wake up from death and come out of the tomb, He tells Martha, Lazarus’ sister: “I am again rising and life; he that believeth in me, yea, though he be dead, he shall live.” Jesus does not tell Martha a story meant to represent something else; rather, He tells her the truth – that He is eternal; that, despite death, He lives forever; that, belief in Him results in this same eternal life.

Don’t you wonder how Jesus stays out of the pits where the lepers live? How is it no one throws Him in with those society hates? Well, yes, His neighbors do attempt toss Him over a cliff; but in general, especially today, Jesus is called “a great teacher.” A great teacher? Jesus is not a great teacher if He is not God. He claims to be God, the One and Only God. Jesus either tells us the truth – that He is God – or He’s crazy. Why does anyone listen to an insane man?

Jesus gains the ears of modern theologians – who may or may not believe in His divinity –  because He demonstrates God’s glory and displays God’s power of “again-rising and life.”

I also appreciate the notation here that to refer to Jesus as “a good moral teacher” is dangerous because of what it is not saying about him. When interacting with people in the broader culture about Jesus, those types of statements should set off all types of warning lights. He is not simply that. He is the resurrection and the life.

November 12, 2012

Jesus Could Have Kept On Multiplying Bread and Fish, But…

Today’s reading is from a blog titled The Cross Alone is Our Theology (love that) the daily devotional blog of Pastor Mark Anderson, Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, California. This appeared on his blog a few days ago.

John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; 24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them, 25 because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.”

It was every politicians dream come true. The groundswell of support was rising. People were abuzz with admiration for Him. The benefits He provided suggested a bright future. If only he were king. He would distribute prosperity to all. They were ripe for the picking.

Sound familiar? Some things never change. Later, John’s gospel reports the incident of the feeding of several thousand people. They came back the next day for more of what they saw as a free lunch program. Jesus was not impressed. “You are only here”, he said, “because you ate your fill.” There is no deeper biblical insight into human nature.

At one point during His earthly ministry the people actually wanted to take Him by force and make Him king. They saw in Him the one who would really deliver the goods. Jesus, sensing the threat to His mission, eluded them.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus consistently refused the adulation of the crowd? After all, wasn’t that what He was after? All he had to do was keep giving away the goodies and they would follow Him anywhere.

 If Jesus had given in to the appetites of the herd everything would have been lost. But Jesus knew what is in us. That’s what John observed. Jesus knew that we will seek to make anyone king who promises to keep the free lunch programs going. For what is in us, Jesus knew, is the insatiable appetite of the self – sin. And the sinful self will happily, willingly enslave itself to the highest bidder.

So Jesus rejected the chronically restless masses and the invitation to fulfill their utopian dreams. Instead He went to the Cross.That is why He alone is worthy of our love and faith. For knowing the sin that is in us, knowing our deepest need, our sickness unto death – He did not pander to our grievances and grudges like some scheming power seeker. He did not give us want we want. He gave us what we need. He gave His life for us.

So to all those who think the latest version of the messiah will bring heaven on earth and the flowering of peace and justice, here is the hard truth; the dreams of the politician will not save you. They may, in fact, impose a nightmare of utopian tyranny. And when they die all we are left with is the burdensome residue of their plans and schemes. The ancient psalmist recognized this truth ages ago when he wrote,

 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.”

The authentic work of peace and justice that Jesus and His Father accomplished happened on a bloody Cross two thousand years ago. That peace comes even now through a living faith in the Crucified One; and the justice of God is fulfilled when sinners are reconciled to God, declared righteous, forgiven and free, by grace through faith, in a life of trust that begins now but will only be perfected in the life to come. 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

~Mark Anderson

HT: Steve Martin’s blog

August 4, 2012

Does the New Testament Refer to Jesus as God?

Wow! I feel like I walked in on some larger discussion, and yet I felt compelled to share this here with C201 readers.  The blogger is Bobby Valentine and the blog is called Stoned-Campbell Disciple. (I searched the phrase and I have no idea; but the blog post is viable so we’re including it today.) I’ll run an update when I’ve got that part figured out.  Here’s the link if you want to go direct; I’m also planning to include this writer’s work at Thinking Out Loud in the future. Some of this may be over your head, but I hope you feel drawn into the subject as I was.

This post has a very limited goal.  I do not intend to settle all questions that have been discussed by the Church down through the years.  I do not intend to discuss the great Creeds of the Church that confess that Jesus is “true God of true God.”  I intend to examine only texts that call or seem to call (directly) Jesus “God.”  This, however, is not the total picture of the NT when it comes to the “deity” of Jesus — that would demand a much more comprehensive article.  But I thought it worth the effort to put this post together.

A COUPLE TEXTS THAT IMPLY JESUS WAS GOD

1) Acts 20.28: “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God which He obtained with his own blood.”

The crucial words are ten ekklesian tou theou hen periepoiesato dia tou haimatos tou idiou.  There are two problems with this text being “conclusive” in calling Jesus “God.”  One concerns a textual varient and the other concerns a grammatical matter.  1) “Church of God” is the best attested reading — and is likely the original reading.  However, the variant reads “the church of the Lord” which is attested to by A, D, and late/minor versions.  According to the rules of textual criticism we go with the more difficult reading.  “Church of God” is not only more difficult, it also better attested and is regarded as original by most scholars.  2) It is possible that theos refers to the Father and idios refers to the Son.  This is not likely — but it must be acknowledged as a “possibility.”  Alexander Campbell in his Living Oracles opted for “church of the Lord” on the basis of the textual evidence in his day – he was driven by textual evidence and not dogmatic concerns.

But in my opinion Acts 20.28 likely refers to Jesus as “God” but it is not beyond challenge.  Not a good challenge — but a possible one.

2) John 1.18: “No one has ever seen God; it is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed Him.” (NIV)

That John 1.18 truly calls Jesus “God” has gained in scholarly support by the discovery of Bodmer papyri which dates to around 200 A.D.  There are two major possibilities because of the textual witness.  1) [ho] monogenes theos, “God the Only Son” or as some mistranslate it as “only-begotten” God” (as in the KJV).  This is the strongest reading.  It is supported by the best Greek manuscripts (including Bodmer), it is attested in the Syriac, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  Because of the dates of ! most
of these witnesses it cannot be claimed the text was altered in the face of the Arian heresy.  2) mongenes huios, “the Son, the only one.”  This reading is supported by the Old Latin and Curetonian Syriac and later Greek mss.  A poorly attested to reading and not likely original.

In my opinion it is difficult to deny that John 1.18 calls Jesus “God.”

3) Titus 2.13 “awaiting our blessed hope and the appearance of the glory of (the) great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”  The crucial phrase is “epiphaneian tes doxes megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Christou.”   The “problem” with this text is not textual, rather there is a question of syntax.  The most obvious meaning of the Greek is offered in my rendering above. It implies that the passage is speaking of only one epiphany, that is of Jesus Christ.  This agrees with other references to the epiphany of Jesus Christ in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 6.14-15; 2 Tim. 4.1).  That “Savior” is applied to Christ rather than the Father is suggested by the next verse of Titus (2.14) which speaks of the redemption brought forth by Jesus.  The other interpretation of this text, one that seems forced (but it is a possibility) is that Paul refers to God (the Father) and then the Savior (Jesus Christ).

Scholars like Raymond Brown and Oscar Cullman take the interpretation I have offered.  I am convinced that this text calls Jesus “God.”

There are other texts that imply Jesus is God (i.e. 2 Pet. 1.1) but I want to move on to those . . .

TEXTS THAT CLEARLY CALL JESUS “GOD”

There are many texts that imply Jesus is divine but I have limited myself to the usage of the word “theos“.

1) Hebrews 1.8-9: The author says that God has spoken of Jesus his Son in the words of Ps. 45.6-7 “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever  . . .”  The psalm is cited according to the LXX and not the Hebrew text (an important point in this text, btw).  The question to determine is whether “ho theos” is a nominative or a vocative.  A few scholars have suggested that this is a nominative (like Westcott) and suggest this interpretation of the text, “God is your throne forevever and ever.”  This, in the words of Raymond Brown, is “most unlikely.”  In fact that interpretation makes no sense.  The vast majority of scholars see this as a vocative, “O God.”  Cullmann says, “Hebrews unequivocally applies the title ‘God’ to Jesus” (Christology of the NT, p. 310).  There can be little doubt that Cullmann is correct.

2) John 1.1: “In the beginning was the Word;
and the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.”

The crucial words of the second and third lines are kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos.  The only debate regarding this text is that “theos” is used without the article. However, the lack of the article is fairly simple in light of grammar rules for predicate nouns.  There can be little — indeed no doubt — that John 1.1 calls Jesus “God.”

3) John 20.28: “My Lord and my God.” This text is clear and unambiguous.  This is the clearest example of the use of “theos” for Jesus.  Here Jesus is addressed as “God” (ho theos mou), with the articular nominative serving as a vocative.  Some have suggested, perhaps correctly, this confession arose in response to Domitian’s claim to the title dominus et deus noster.

In the final analysis it is clear that the NT does in fact call Jesus “God.”  As I stated at the beginning this is only the tip of the iceberg of how the NT presents the divinity of Jesus.  But we must also embrace the other side of the NT teaching — Jesus was also human. He was God and Man together.  I happen to think Nicea comes pretty close to capturing the complete vision of the NT teaching.

What is most amazing is that all of these texts were written by Jewish monotheists. Further these texts do not all stem from Pauline texts (the assumption that Paul somehow perverted the belief of early disciples but that only begs the question of how Paul came to believe that Jesus was somehow included in the definition of “God” too!!). Some how we modern disciples need to embrace the total message of the New Testament regarding this one we call the Christ.  He was, and IS, both mysteriously and completely (no fudging) Human and Divine.

August 1, 2012

Seeing the Father Working

NIV-John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Yesterday morning I was reading this verse in several different translations and I started thinking of the things that Jesus did do in his earthly ministry here, and what that means in the context of “what he sees his Father doing.” I’ve always thought of Jesus acting on his own while here on earth in terms of the times he seems to act swiftly and quickly and decisively. But it would mean that:

  • When Jesus says to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and walk;” he sees his Father touching and healing the man and helping him to his feet;
  • When Jesus says to the storm, “Peace! Be still!” he sees God the Father already working to calm the wind, stop the rain, and push the clouds away;
  • When Jesus blesses the loaves and the fish, he sees God in heaven making a creative miracle happen so that the the fraction and division of the food causes it to multiply.

The cooperative nature of Christ’s earthly ministry with what God the Father is doing is easy to miss; especially when the gospel narratives don’t mention that aspect of each story.

Gary W. Burge in the NIV Application Commentary for the Gospel of John writes this on page 177 concerning this verse:

The central motif is the relation of a father and son as it would be viewed in this culture through the trade or skill the son was learning.  We can think of Jesus growing up with Joseph in the carpentry shop, obediently learning skills and later imitating them… His activity is never independent or self-initiated but always dependent, deriving its purpose from the father’s will.

In this model we have to remember there is no reciprocal relationship. The father initiates, sends, commands, commissions, grants; the Son responds, obeys, performs his father’s will, receives authority. Moreover, the Son does not simply draw inspiration from the Father, but imitates Him tirelessly.

Matthew Henry writes:

It was the copy of that great original; it was Christ’s faithfulness, as it was Moses’s, that he did all according to the pattern shown him in the mount. This is expressed in the present tense, what he sees the Father do, for the same reason that, when he was here upon earth, it was said, He is in heaven (John 3:13), and is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18); as he was even then by his divine nature present in heaven, so the things done in heaven were present to his knowledge. What the Father did in his counsels, the Son had ever in his view, and still he had his eye upon it, as David in spirit spoke of him, I have set the Lord always before me

J. B. Phillips translates this verse and the one which follows:

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. What the Son does is always modelled on what the Father does, for the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does himself, Yes, and he will show him even greater things than these to fill you with wonder.

What is the application of this passage?

Certainly when we come to God, it’s possible for us to visualize two things:

  • What God is already doing
  • What God is about to do

Not every prayer request is answered, and certainly many are not answered right away, but it can stretch our faith to consider that Jesus did not initiate so much as he harmonized with God the Father already at work. Through the imagination we can see the Father working.

~PW

June 29, 2012

Finding Jesus

As a general rule here, if we “borrow” a blog post, we at least find an alternative graphic image to go with it; but this time around the original picture really belongs with the article.  I’ve been reading Dean Lusk’s blog, Every Good Band Deserves Fudge for about four years now; and while I’ve linked to him at Thinking Out Loud a few times, this is his first time here at C201.  So, you guys know the drill, you’re encouraged to read this at his blog, where it appeared under the title, Where’s Jesus?


I’m surprised and feel a little silly that I never caught the connection between these passages before. Notice the phrases I’ve emphasized.

Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

John 12:26, NLT

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matthew 25:34-40, NLT

If we want to be disciples and servants of Jesus, we have to be where He is. Sometimes that “place” is not a mysterious destination we have to agonize about, asking God if this or that is what He’d have us to do. Often it’s right in front of us.

In a very straightforward manner, Jesus told us just a few of the places we can find Him. Are we there?

You can stop reading here if you’d like, and jump right to criticizing me for espousing some kind of exclusively social gospel. However, this was written to expound on one small aspect of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ, not to say it encompasses everything. Read further for bonus content! These thoughts and clarifications came out of a discussion of the topic via e-mail with a friend.

My friend asked, “So we find Jesus where believers are, right? In these passages then, is Jesus talking about helping only less fortunate Christians? How do you find Jesus among non-believers?” My response was something like this (with a few edits for clarity):

“We find Jesus where believers are…” That’s obviously a true statement, but keeping Scripture in mind (like the passage above, Matthew 25, for instance), “Jesus is not among non-believers” may not necessarily be a true statement. When Jesus is talking in the Matthew 25 passages, the believers He was talking about were the ones He was talking to. He never mentioned whether the hungry, poor, etc., were believers. That apparently didn’t matter. That is, we’re never told in Scripture to screen someone to determine if they’re worthy of our help — if they’re a believer, etc. We’re never told the spiritual status of the guy in the ditch that the Good Samaritan helped, for example. He was just “a man.”

And then there’s a different perspective making a similar point: the Church is the body of Christ; He is the head. (“We find Jesus among believers.”) However, Jesus put Himself among non-believers as a regular habit when He was physically on earth. Eating with tax-collecting scum, defending a sexually promicuous woman who was not a believer, doing things that got Him labeled by the religious elite as a drunkard and a glutton. (“We find Jesus among non-believers.”) Therefore, one way we find Jesus among non-believers is for us (believers) to be where non-believers are.

Again, Jesus told us and showed us just a few of the places we can find Him. Are we there?

~Dean Lusk

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