Christianity 201

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.

July 14, 2013

Eight Tough Sayings of Jesus

I haven’t seen an article in a long while that has impressed me as much as this one, so it’s being reblogged both here and at Thinking Out Loud today. Do we really take seriously some of the tougher demands Jesus places on us or do we dismiss it thinking, “Oh that’s just Jesus using hyperbole again….”? The author is Eddie Becker and you are encouraged to read this at source, Relevant Magazine, where it appeared under the title, 8 Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said.

It’s the commandments. It’s His treatment of the ones I deem unlovable in my own mind. It’s the drawn out parables used to teach lessons that cut to the very core of my heart and soul. It’s the not only difficult sayings of Jesus, it’s the ones that frustrate us, that confound us and convict us.

As I struggle through the red letters of my NIV Study Bible, I see numerous statements from Jesus that perplex me. To be blunt, there are several things I wish He had never said. For example:

1. That I’m blessed when I’m persecuted at for my beliefs. (“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11)

If we can all be truthful, we find some things Jesus said difficult.

Through ridicule and brutal persecution, we are to feel … lonely? Depressed? Angry? Bitter? No, Jesus says we are “blessed.” It’s hard to think of that especially when we hear stories like what happened at the Zirve Publishing House massacre in Turkey. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that our “momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory.” In the end, all of these evil things many Christians world wide face will truly be blessings.

2. That I’ve cheated on my wife when I check out an attractive woman. (“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28)

When do you think the moment of adultery occurs? To many men it’s when a spouse has sex with someone outside their marriage. Many women think just an emotional relationship on any level with someone other than a spouse is cheating. Jesus says the tipping point starts when we simply lust after someone who isn’t our spouse. Crushing to the core at the end of the verse is one word: heart. Our lustful affairs don’t stop at our minds. We’re temporarily replacing our spouses with someone else in our hearts. That convicts me greatly.

3. That I can’t love God and money at the same time. (“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24)

I think Jesus brings up money here because if there is one thing that distracts us from full dependence on God, it’s money. How much time do we spend on it? Thinking about it? Worrying about it? Working for it? Spending it? Saving it? Wasting it? Stealing it? After all, as Kanye West says, “having money’s not everything; not having it is.” If we could just make a little more of it, we’d be okay. If I can just use it to buy this and that, I’d be fine. If we save enough this year, Christmas will be great. Maybe we need to start seeing all of our money and possessions as gifts from a gracious Giver, and not just means to survive and the source of our pleasure.

4. Not to worry. (“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear … “ Matthew 6:25)

$300 billion. That’s roughly the amount of money spent annually by employers on work missed and health care costs related to stress. In America, it’s almost uncool to not have some form of stress or worry in your life. Yet Jesus says that if the birds and flowers are okay, how can we have anything to worry over? I feel sometimes He’d understand my stress better if He sat down with me as I pay bills. I’m sure He would ask me why I don’t ask Him more regularly for help in paying those bills.

5. “Why did you doubt?” (“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,’ he said, “Why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31)

It’s fairly easy to follow Christ’s commands when the balance of the world is swinging in our favor. It’s when the bumps in the road come, the heavy storms, that we seem to waver. Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, so he got out of the boat to go to him. But he got distracted. The wind blew. The lightning flashed. Waves crashed. Cancer struck. Feelings got hurt. Tragedy hit home. Wars started. Pain happened. Yet through it all, Jesus expects us—as He expected Peter—to trust him, even in the midst of impending disaster.

6. To take sin so seriously. (“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” Matthew 18:8)

All I can do is wonder if the things I wish Jesus hadn’t said are really the things He wanted me to hear and do the most.

Jesus doesn’t play with sin. He goes as far as to suggest that any part of our body that causes us to sin needs to be removed. Those are drastic measures. He doesn’t recommend a self-help book or program. He wants total amputation of the things that are causing us to seek pleasure away from Him.

7. To pay my taxes and tithes. (“Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21)

Be honest: you don’t like paying taxes. You don’t scrape couch cushions at home to gather extra money to donate to the IRS. Why? Because we don’t always feel like the money goes for our own personal wants and needs. We treat our tithes the same way. Jesus commands us to honor our leaders, both civic ones and church ones. In our age of anti-government rage, Jesus shows us we all come under the authority of someone else. We’re to honor that.

8. To love my neighbors the same way I love myself. (“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39)

Jesus has apparently never met some of the neighbors I’ve had over the years. Not just neighbors but people in my community, church and workplace. Many of these people are hard to love in general, let alone to love as much as I love myself. All that should matter to us is God created us all in His image, and He loves everyone He created. We’re not only asked to do the same, we’re commanded to.

If we can all be truthful, we find some things Jesus said difficult. We can debate over the cultural applications of many of the statements He made. We can add to and take away, twist and rearrange the phrases so they fit our own selfish purposes. I’m as guilty as any other at doing these things. Yet all I can do is wonder if the things I wish Jesus hadn’t said are really the things He wanted me to hear and do the most.

Eddie Becker works in sales but has a passion for writing. He is married to a beautiful wife and has two beautiful daughters. Read more at his blog or follow him on Twitter

 

C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

 

 

May 27, 2013

Scripture Back at Ya: Don’t Judge

Ouch! Nothing worse than having a scripture verse thrown back in your face. Like “Judge not…” That’s our topic for today, which is taken from PleaseConvinceMe.com, the blog of author J. Warner Wallace, whose book Cold Case Christianity is being reviewed Thursday at Thinking Out Loud. As always here at C201, you’re encouraged to read these articles at source; here’s the link for this one, originally titled: The Verse the Culture Misquotes Most Regularly in an Effort to Quiet Christians

As a Christian, I’m often at odds with the culture around me. As our society embraces a growing number of unbiblical behaviors and attitudes, I find myself becoming more and more vocal in my opposition. I’m not alone; many other conservative Christians are also taking a stand for what the Bible teaches, particularly when it comes to moral behavior. Maybe that’s why I seem to hear Matthew 7:1 tossed around so frequently by those who want Christians to quiet down:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

Whenever we, as Christians, speak out against something in the culture, one of two labels is immediately employed in an effort to silence us: we are either branded “intolerant” or “judgmental”. To make matters worse, the second label is often attached to the teaching of Jesus Himself. Are we Christians defying the words of our Master when we speak against the behaviors, attitudes or worldviews affirmed by others? Did Jesus command us to be silently non-judgmental?

This selective use of scripture by the opposition is perhaps the finest example of what we at Stand to Reason are addressing when we caution people to “never read a Bible verse.” Matthew 7:1, when read in isolation from the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to command a form of silent acceptance and tolerance advocated by the culture, but a closer examination of the verse reveals Jesus’ true intent. If Jesus was advocating some form of quiet tolerance, how do we explain the following statements?

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (verse 6)

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (verses 13 and 14)

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (verse 15)

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (verses 21, 22 and 23)

Wow, Jesus seems vocally judgmental in these passages. Some people are dogs and swine, unworthy of our efforts. Some people are wrong about the path they choose. Some people are false prophets. Some people are true disciples and some are not. Jesus sure seems comfortable making judgmental statements about people in these passages. How could Jesus say such things when he began this part of the sermon by saying, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged”? Maybe we should revisit the first verses of Matthew 7:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

It turns out that Jesus is not prohibiting vocal discernment in these passages, but is cautioning against a certain kind of unbecoming behavior: hypocritical judgmentalism.  We are called to live differently so that we can effectively identify and address un-Biblical behavior in our culture. I cannot be a practicing thief and effectively caution against thievery. I cannot be an active adulterer and effectively advocate monogamy. I’m going to have to “first” stop and assess my own behavior (take out my own “log”) before I can “then” caution others about their behavior (help them take the “speck” out of their eye). This is a “first / then” commandment. Both sides of the directive are important; Jesus is commanding two equally critical actions. First, we must change our behavior; become people of God who are above reproach. Second, we must actively engage others about their behavior. Some ideas are good and some are bad. Some prophets are true and some are false. Some people are right, some people are wrong. We are called to make statements about such things after we eliminate hypocrisy in these areas of our own lives. We, as Christians, are called to (1) live righteously, and (2) speak out about unrighteousness. We are less likely to do this, however, if we allow folks misquote Jesus in an effort to silence us.

J. Warner Wallace is a Christian Case Maker at Stand to Reason, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

 

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

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.

February 23, 2013

Jesus, The Holy Nomad

To start today, another section from Matt Litton’s book Holy Nomad, The Rugged Road to Joy (Abingdon).

Holy Nomad - Matt LittonReading the Gospels, I discovered that the Holy Nomad is not the least bit interested in the laws and doctrines of religion.  He is more radical than any philosophy of life.  He does not associate himself with a particular political agenda, a government, a race, or even a nationality.  He is not a hip cultural trend, and based on his violent reaction to people setting up storefronts in the temple, not cool with being presented as a business venture to be marketed and sold.  From the way he interacts with the sick and sinful it’s clear that the Holy Nomad is kind and compassionate, but, also obvious from his harsh words with the religious leaders… The Nomad is not safe.

The Gospel of John says that he was present at the dawn of time but broke into human history, climbed into human skin and walked around in it so that we could see and understand the true nature of God, his father.

In this Nomad we find the universe’s source of compassion, the essence of love, the loyal friend, the divine comforter.  In him we meet the intolerance of inequality, and the very power of freedom.  He is the Resurrection, the foundation of life and the leader of the most important invasion in the history of the universe – the invasion of light.

Witnessing the Nomad on the path of the Gospels, I am left believing he must be the source, the antidote for Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, the one to bring us out of darkness.

But I also discovered again that there is urgency for us to respond to his call.  The gospel of Luke tells us a story of Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.  It is a poignant scene where several men are asking Jesus what it means to follow:

On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.  Jesus was curt:  “Are you ready to rough it?  We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”

He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please.  I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”  Jesus refused.

“First things first.  Your business is life, not death.  And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”

Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

Jesus said, “No procrastination.  No backward looks. You can’t  put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow.  Seize the day.”

“When once the call of God comes, ” wrote Oswald Chambers, “begin to go and never stop going.”  These words often remind me of my friend Craig.  They remind me of Jesus breathing on his followers as he sent them to their work.  I wonder how close the Nomad was in those moments and if we could see it – how he breathed on my friend to empower that first step from the cell of addiction.

Perhaps with each decision, every new step, we should take a fuller breath of God’s spirit – the sacred wind that powers our journeys.

For another excerpt from Matt’s book, click here.

February 18, 2013

End Times Prophecy in Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew 3 (NLT): 11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

When we think prophecy, we think often of Bible books like Revelation and Daniel; but Matthew’s gospel records many of the end-times prophetic words of Jesus. The passage above contains imagery that is foreign to us, and even the NLT (above) uses terminology that is foreign to urban dwellers in the 21st century. Our featured writer today breaks this down for us with related scriptures and commentary. (You’ll see references to Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament.) He also uses the KJV as a base text, but in this case all the texts are challenging because of the agrarian imagery. You’re encouraged to click through to Don Costello’s blog, Theophobic*.  This is a great example of how to exegete a passage; how to do a thorough study on a single verse.


Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. ~ Matthew 3:12

1. “Whose fan is in his hand…”

a. The “his” of this phrase is the Holy Ghost of the previous verse, the fan is in his hand.

  • 1). Matthew 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

b. fan [4425 * ptyon][Thayer: a winnowing shovel.]

  •  1). Brethren NT Commentary: “A light, broad shovel with which grain was thrown against the wind to clear it of chaff. The breadth of the shovel had the effect of spreading the grain into the air, that the air might more thoroughly separate the chaff from the grain. This illustrates the thoroughness of the separation that God will make between the good and the bad.”
  •  2). Albert Barnes NT Commentary:  “The word used here and rendered “fan” means a winnowing shovel instead. It was used for throwing the grain, after it was threshed, into the air, so that the chaff might be driven away by the wind. This mode of separating the grain from the chaff is still practiced in the East.”
  •  3). When the Holy Ghost came into the earth he came in a mighty rushing wind. 4). In this dispensation the Holy Ghost will blow upon our lives, he will speak to us in our hearts through the Scriptures and in prayer, he will move upon us to be obedient to the word and be more conformed to the image of Christ, to get rid of the chaff in our lives.
    • a). Acts 2:2-4 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
    • b). John 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

2. “…and he will thoroughly purge his floor,

a. purge [1245 * diakatharizo][Thayer: to cleanse thoroughly.]

b. floor [257 * halon][Thayer: a ground plot or threshing floor, i.e. a place in the field made hard after the harvest by a roller, where grain was threshed out.]

c. The purging is the work of the Holy Ghost in our lives. In this dispensation the Holy Ghost will blow upon our lives, he will speak to us in our hearts through the Scriptures and in prayer, he will move upon us to be obedient to the word and be more conformed to the image of Christ, to get rid of the chaff in our lives.

3. “…and gather his wheat into the garner…”

  •  a. This is the harvesting process. What a privilege, to be harvested and gathered into his garner.

4. “…but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

a. Jesus spoke of those in his kingdom who instead of responding to the work of the Holy Ghost would continue to offend and work iniquity; he spoke of their end.

  •  1). Matthew 13:41, 42 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

b. In the book of Isaiah we get a picture of those who do not make the harvest and those who do.

  • 1). Isaiah 33:11-16 Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble: your breath, as fire, shall devour you. And the people shall be as the burnings of lime: as thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire. Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure.

c. We need to seek his face so he can speak to our hearts and we can in the power of the Holy Ghost in the grace of God yield our lives in obedience, throwing off the chaff so we may be gathered into his garner, Heaven.


*The name “theophobic” comes from a combination of two Greek words, “phobia” which is the Greek word for fear and “theo” which is the Greek word for God. I instantly thought of the phrase “God fearers” in the book of Acts and thought of “theophobia”.

February 9, 2013

The One Who Will Judge is Non-Judgmental

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

~Apostles Creed  (see also a musical adaptation)

This week we went to an event that featured Steve Geyer, who was billed as a comedian, but really shared his heart for over two hours in a much more pastoral sense.

In one section he spoke about the surprising and unexpected things that take place in the earthly ministry of Jesus; things where the events and people and situations get turned on their heads, including the time Jesus is anointed with perfume by an uninvited guest to a party.

Three gospels carry this story. Mark  (chapter 14) who is usually much more concise gives us more than Matthew

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

Luke 7 is considered to be a different story that took place at a different time, but is a similar story that includes a parable that Jesus teaches:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As Steve Geyer referred briefly to this story he said,

“The One who will judge the earth is non-judgmental.”

That phrase really hit me. Here we see another example of the contrast between “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” (itself not a fully accurate rendering of the earthly ministry of Jesus) and the one who sits at God’s right hand from where “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Mercy contrasted with justice. God’s love versus God’s judgment.

John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Jesus pours out love and compassion to so many in the gospel narratives, but just as a parent gently loves a child, so also does a parent not hesitate to bring rebuke, correction and discipline. (See this link for an interesting parallel between that and the work of the scriptures in our lives.) God’s justice must be satisfied, and yet, as I ponder Steve’s statement, I see even there a justice that is tempered by mercy and grace.


Even though today’s story may not be exactly in all four gospels, I did a check to see what teachings/stories are found in all four gospels:

  • Feeding the 5,000
  • Identification of the betrayer at the Last Supper
  • Jesus prays in Gethsemane
  • Peter’s denials
  • various elements of the death and resurrection

Scriptures quoted today are NIV; all underlinings in the creed and Bible verses added.

January 29, 2013

Everyone Who Asks Receives

This is from Albert at the blog God is My Constant. As always, click through to read at source.  As we did yesterday, because all of the scripture quotes today are the words of Jesus, we’ll use the popular red letter format.

I certainly have not received everything I have ever asked for. Sometimes that has been a good thing, especially when my mother used to say, “You’re asking for it kid!

What about the times, when I sincerely, politely, humbly, even altruistically, asked for something and still did not receive it. What was the deal there?

Have I not received it “yet“? Is it a case of timing or delayed gratification?

Have I received it in some other form I am unable or unwilling to recognize?

Perhaps the premise or the promise is flawed. Merely a delusional distraction of some kind?

What on earth was Jesus going on about when he said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” in Matthew 7:8?

I read it again the other day and it jumped out as a dogmatic statement. When I flicked back a couple of pages I noticed that “asking” and “seeking” featured regularly in the section of scripture, commonly referred to in Matthews Gospel as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, where this verse is found.

At the start of the Sermon, Jesus said,

“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and

“”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” – Matthew 5:3,6

If, as seems to be the case, he is using a poetical form of rhetoric to make his point, this would show that those who are the poor, the impoverished, the ones who lack in some way, thus their hunger and thirst, are the ones who will be on the receiving end of God’s grace, mercy and generosity. There is a sense in which they do not need to ask or seek because they will be pre-emptively supplied by God in some way.

This seems to be reenforced in Matthew 6:8, where Jesus said,

“your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.

However he then goes on to teach the Lord’s Prayer, which has a series of requests in which the petitioner first asks for God’s kingdom.

Later in Matthew 6:33, he tells them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. Previously when I’ve read that verse, I took it as a sort of reassurance that Jesus was referring to my temporal comforts. i.e. there was some sort of theistic bargain taking place. If I “seek” his kingdom, I will taken care of in the food and clothing department, ignoring the full context of the sermon.

The verbs and participles in Matthew 7:8 are all in the present tense (except for “will be opened”), so it could be read as;

“For all those who are asking are receiving and all those seeking are finding and to all those knocking it will be opened”

Putting this together with the preëmptive statements in Chapter 5 and 6 and the imperatives of the Lord’s Prayer (“pray like this…”) and Matthew 6:33 (“seek first the kingdom…”) God is using the means of prayer (asking, seeking, knocking) to carry out his goal of giving us his kingdom, his righteousness etc. It is not a case of bargaining; “If you bow down and worship me then I will give you these riches” – that offer came from someone else. Instead it is more the sense of; “God is giving you new life, and a new world view, as you worship him, apart from self interest, self justification, self vindication, and realise your own radical spiritual depravity.”

This is the only way “your righteousness exceeds that of (the self-appointed religious élite of their day) the scribes and pharisees.” When it is derived, or better understood as, received from God through Jesus. The difference between the first century application and today is merely context and politics. Then it was nominally religious posturing in defiance of an incumbent foreign government to look more self righteous before ones peers. Today, the posturing still happens, but its in the form of token environmental salvage or political endorsement of a minority whim both of which are fashioned to appear as gracious and tolerant and yet, like the scribes and pharisees of old, is dresses up in elaborate, eloquent, scolding arrogance towards any who buck the trend.

It may be said of them, as it was of me in my belligerence, “they’re asking for it.” Jesus assures them, they’ll “get it.” We all will. The question is not, are you getting what you asked for, but, what are you asking for? 

What are you asking for?

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.

January 16, 2012

Confession, Belief, Security

Bill Mounce is a regular at Koinonia, where this exposition of Romans 10:9 appeared last week.

Something occurred to me this morning, and I am curious as to what you think about it. It actually has far reaching ramifications.

If you have been following this blog, then you know that I have been thinking about what is a Christian, how do we define it. Specifically, I have been looking for a balance between Jesus’ “Follow me” and the more propositional statements of Paul.

An example of the later is Rom 10:9. Paul is talking about the nearness of the word of faith and says, “if you confess (ὁμολογήσῃς) with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe (πιστεύσῃς) in your heart that  God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes (πιστεύεται) and is made righteous, and with the mouth he confesses (ὁμολογεῖται) and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10).

Here is my question. I have always thought of this confession and believing more in terms of a single event, namely, conversion, going through the gate (Matt 7:13-14). But does it have to be limited to this?

Doug Moo in his commentary says, “Paul is therefore explaining the ‘nearness’ of the word of faith, the gospel, by emphasizing that it demands only a simple response and that, when responded to, it mediates God’s salvation” (657).

Now, certainly this is true of conversion, which is coming to a point of confessing and believing. But I wonder if Paul would agree with the sentiment that a person could make a one-time confession, and later deny his confession, and still be saved. I wonder if Paul would agree that a person could come to a point of faith, and later deny his faith, and still be saved.

I can find no such teaching in Paul. 

Nor can I find it in Jesus. In fact, he has some pretty strong words to say on the subject. For example, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [i.e., to not confess Jesus’ Lordship], of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels [i.e., to distance in judgment]” (Mark 8:38).

I wonder if we should continue to see the importance of the first time we confess and believe, when we are made righteous and are saved, and yet realize that in the fullest sense of the words, Christians are people who confess Christ and people who believe in the resurrection. If we cease to confess and if we cease to believe, then we can no longer legitimately be called Christians, believers, followers of Christ.

As far as the Greek is concerned the aorists ὁμολογήσῃς and πιστεύσῃς don’t really help us. The aorist is not necessarily punctiliar; it does not necessarily point to a single point in time. Thankfully we are far beyond that view of the aorist. In fact, if these are constative aorists, they could nicely cover the entire range of our lives. And πιστεύεται and ὁμολογεῖται are present tense.

At this point I don’t want to say that this is necessarily what Paul is teaching in Rom 10. But Calvin and Wesley are both in agreement that if a person does not continue in their confession of Christ and belief in his (death and) resurrection, they can hardly be called Christian.

And as I have often argued, whether they never were true Christians or lost their salvation is a nearly irrelevant question, since in either case the person ends up in hell.

William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill’s other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at www.billmounce.com

October 28, 2011

Confronting Greed

As I write this, the “Occupy” protests are spreading around the world, and sadly, becoming more confrontational, as neighborhoods try to take back their public spaces, and police grow weary of trying to keep the peace, and the costs associated with so doing.

At the root of the protests is corporate and personal greed.  In many ways, the protests are borne out of the situation in the U.S., the other locations are merely copycat protests.  I don’t know the source of the stats which follow, but they purport to show the ratio between the take home pay of the average worker, and that of the average CEO:

At his blog, Dream Awakener, J. R. Woodward posts this classic prayer against greed in a blog item titled, Praying With Occupy Wall Street.

O Jesus, Who chose a life of poverty and obscurity; 

Grant me the grace to keep my heart detached from the transitory things of this world.

Let it be that henceforth, You are my only treasure, for You are infinitely more precious than all others possessions. My heart is too solicitous for the vain and fleeting things of earth.

Make me always mindful of Your warning words: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”

Grant me the grace to keep Your holy example always before my eyes, that I may despise the nothingness of this world and make You the object of all my desires and affections.

Amen.

What should the Christian’s response be to the Occupy movement?  I believe the answer is rooted in Micah 6:8

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God. (NLT)