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Mark 8 – You HAVE to Get This!

So In Mark 6 Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.  There were twelve baskets leftover.  In Mark 7, they panic when Jesus walks by their boat (on the water) during a storm.  Mark says that they clearly haven’t learned the lesson from the bread.  Apparently the Apostles are supposed to be learning to put their faith in God and quit paying so much attention to the obstacles.  In Mark 8 Jesus decides to give them another chance to get the lesson and he now feeds four thousand with seven loaves and a few fish and has seven baskets left over.

So after a quick argument with the Pharisees Jesus and the Apostles get on a boat and they realize that the Apostles forget to bring lunch and there is only a single loaf of bread.  As Jesus begins teaching the about how they need to be different from the Pharisees and Herod, he uses leaven as an illustration.

At this point, some Apostle says to another, “What’s he talking about with this leaven of the Pharisees

BREAD? BREAD? You think I am worried there isn’t enough BREAD!?!?

stuff?”  Somebody replies, “I think he is upset we forgot the bread.  I mean, how can this many of us eat with only one loaf of bread?”

At this moment Jesus’ head explodes.  I can’t even imagine what went through his head in that moment.  He cannot fathom that the Apostles are failing to learn the lesson of the bread.  So now we review:

Jesus:  Remember when I fed five thousand with five loaves?  How much was leftover?

Apostles:  Twelve baskets.  (This is one thousand people per loaf)

Jesus: Remember when I fed four thousand with seven loaves?  How much leftover?

Apostles: Seven baskets.  (This is only 571 people per loaf.)

Jesus: If I wanted us to eat, don’t you think I could come up with something out of that one loaf?  I mean, on my worst day that’s enough to feed 571 people so that should cover the dozen or so of us.

Jesus knows that he is eventually going to leave this group of men and women to trust that God will provide for them no matter what their eyes tell them.  They must learn to trust God to overcome any obstacles.  As it stands, all they see is obstacles.

Perhaps thats why, immediately after Peter professes his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus tells them that he will be taken to Jerusalem and killed and resurrected on the third day.  Of course, Peter only sees the obstacle in this.  Jesus, however, tells Peter that he is thinking only of human concerns and not the things of God.  

One of the hardest things for me to do is to see things God’s way and not my way.  I always want plenty of time to plan, to count the cost, to trust in my own ability to overcome what obstacles are ahead of me.  And there is value to that, even in scripture.  But there is something to be said for trusting always that God will help me overcome whatever obstacles are placed before me.

Like the Apostles, I desperately need to learn the lesson of the loaves if I am going to be a part of growing his Kingdom and doing his work in the world.  I need to trust in his power and not mine.  I need to put my confidence in God ahead of my fear of whatever the world puts in front of me.

 

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Mark

 

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Mark 7 – What I Do and Don’t Know

I wish I had more time to actually study all of the complexities of this chapter, but unfortunately I don’t.  There’s going to be a bookmark in my Bible on this page until I sit down soon and try to educate myself out of some of my confusion here.  But I still won’t pretend that I think I understand everything going on here.

Here’s what (I think) I know:

Mark has to actually explain in detail why the Pharisees are upset because he thinks its so ridiculous that it won’t make sense without explanation.  It’s also important that they question why Jesus doesn’t follow “the teachings of the elders.”  It’s clear that the rules Jesus’ followers aren’t adhering to are man-made regulations.  On the other hand, Jesus responds by saying, “You don’t even follow the teachings of Moses and the laws of God.”  Nice rebuttal.  He goes on to talk about how cleanliness of heart, mind, and soul is what matters to God, not dirty hands or dishes.

In the story of the woman in Tyre, most of it confuses me and will be in the “things I don’t know section.”  Following up on Mark 6, I wrote there about how Jesus gave and gave and gave to other people to what had to be the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.  We see the result of that here as he tries to slip unnoticed into a house, but of course, he is found out and must go back to healing.

Jesus then goes to the area of the Ten Cities, or Decapolis, where he heals a man who is deaf and unable to speak.  Jesus heals him.  Fun fact: the Decapolis is the same region that Jesus sent Legion to go evangelize after he got rid of his demons.

Here’s What I Don’t Know:

When Mark is writing about Jesus’ comments on how nothing outside of the body can make you unclean, Mark specifically says that in saying this Jesus was calling all foods clean.  The food codes were part of the Old Testament law.  It would seem that Jesus was negating part of the law.  However, in Matthew 5:17-20, it is clear that Jesus did not come to destroy the law and that he intended none of it to fall away until everything “is accomplished.”

My best theory: Mark is writing this Gospel in the time after the church has learned that the food laws no longer apply to Christians.  As he is writing, he is trying to show that Jesus’ comments here apply to the new Christian understanding (given to Peter by God) that the food laws no longer applied.

Jesus has healed Gentiles before without insulting them or calling them dogs.  However, in this case he seems to do so.  When the woman acknowledges his comment but replies in faith, Jesus is impressed and grants her request.  I am not sure why Jesus would say what he said to the woman, even though it is true.

In the story of the deaf and mute man, I have no idea what Jesus is doing.  Just a few verses ago he cast

Instructions for a “wet willie” or “How to heal a deaf man?”

out a demon long distance without even being told which direction the girl was.  Now he sticks his finger in the guy’s ears, spits, and touches his tongue in order to heal him.  In another situation Jesus said that there was a demon that could only be cast out by prayer.  Is this some kind of illness or demon that could only be cast out by poking and spitting?  Is Jesus simply demonstrating something?  I don’t know what that would be.  It’s an odd moment that is right up there with the time Jesus used spit to make a mud pie to place on a man’s eyes to heal his blindness.  I don’t know what’s going on, but it is completely clear that Jesus does know what he’s doing.

Honestly, I think it’s important to recognize that the Bible isn’t always straight forward.  Sometimes it’s weird, complicated, or difficult to understand.  Usually not.  But sometimes.  And we shouldn’t always feel the need to say, “Well I know exactly what that means and there is no question about it.”  Sometimes we need to recognize that God is bigger than us and does things differently than you or I would.  And that’s okay.  It’s part of what makes him God and us…well, not God.  And we need that humility.  I know I do.

On the other hand, if you know exactly what’s going on in any of these stories, please let me know.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Mark

 

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Mark 6 – A Disappointing Chapter

Jesus’ life was hard.  And I am not talking about how he didn’t have a wife, kids, a home, or a comfy job with a steady income.  And we all know that the Jewish leaders disliked him and were always picking fights with him and criticizing him.  This chapter shows that even the “good guys” were a drain on Jesus.

Chapter six starts with Jesus’ homecoming.  After travelling around and preaching in different places, he heads home for some time with friendly faces.  Sometimes you just want to go where people know, where people are all the same,  you wanna go where everybody knows your name.  And yet when Jesus goes home he finds one of the least receptive audiences of his entire ministry.  And its almost understandable.  Its one thing to be told that a stranger from way over yonder is the Messiah.  It’s another thing to be told that the guy who used to cause mischief with you as a kid and who learned Torah with you in Sabbath School is now telling everybody he is the Messiah.  It’s a tough pill to swallow.  But since there is no faith in Jesus, his ministry almost stalls out, so he sends out the 12 to go into the villages and see that the work of the Kingdom is still done.  But Jesus’ visit home wasn’t a great homecoming.  They weren’t putting up any signs that read, “Nazareth: Home of Jesus of Nazareth.”  Redundancy aside, they weren’t proud and they didn’t have any faith.  And it amazed Jesus (not in a good way).

Disappointing.

In the middle of this chapter John the Baptist is beheaded by Herod as a party-favor for a dirty dancer.  This passage is gut-wrenching.  John was in prison and was brought out to give speeches to entertain the court.  And his life is taken only to further amuse the court.  One of the greatest prophets in history is killed and not even for a good reason.  It certainly doesn’t reduce the great value of John’s life or his ministry, but it’s a painful story to read.

Disappointing.

Now the disciples come back from their mission trip and report of all the great things they have done.  They have had great success and can’t wait to tell Jesus.  And remember, that by success I mean that they preached a message of repentance while casting out demons and healing people.  Serious success.  Miraculous stuff.  But before they finish their mission report they are interrupted by great crowds and Jesus turns to the Apostles and says, “Feed them.”

Does Jesus think that Peter, James, and John secretly have a year’s supply of food hidden in their coats?  Or perhaps some outrageous amount of money.  But even with the money, there aren’t Walmarts or food trucks back then.  There’s a serious supply problem.  Clearly Jesus is instructing them to do something miraculous.  Keep in mind, they are in the middle of telling Jesus about the miracles they performed on their mission trip when Jesus interrupts them with these instructions.  Their response shows nothing but a lack of faith and an unwillingness to open their minds to what God is trying to do through them.

Disappointing.

After some time in prayer, Jesus is walking on the water and is about to pass by the Apostles (apparently he didn’t want to rejoin them just yet but planned to meet them on the other side…awesome).  He gets in the boat and calms them down because they are all riled up and scared.  The waves are stilled.  The winds are calmed.

Then Mark tells us “The didn’t understand about the loaves.”  Huh?  What does bread have to do with storms at sea?  The Apostles continue to see obstacles instead of opportunities.  They see fear where they should see power.

Disappointment.

And then come the crowds.  They were sick, broken, exhausted, hopeless.  Then Jesus comes and gives them healing, wholeness, life, and hope.  Jesus gives and gives and gives.  Can’t you just imagine him yelling “Take, take, take!  I can’t keep giving.  I am out.  I have nothing left.  Leave me alone for one day!”  But he doesn’t.

Mark shows us in this chapter that Jesus truly was a fount of living water and that all of those who came to him could drink forever.  He never stopped giving love, compassion, patience, life, health, wisdom…he gave, and gave, and gave.  Until people took it all.  And even then…he gave up his spirit.  Even in the face of a seemingly endless line of disappointments, even from the ones who should have been there for him the most.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Mark

 

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John 1 – It’s All Been Done Before…

I want to begin by saying that I am very excited to be starting the Gospel of John.  There is this great moment we will come to at the end of this Gospel where Jesus tells Peter how he will someday day in order to bring glory to God.  Peter then points to John (who is writing this Gospel) and says, “What about him?  How will he die?”  Jesus looks at Peter and says the equivalent of “That’s none of your business.”  Well John did live for a very long time.  Tradition holds that John was the only one of the Apostles who was not martyred for his faith.  In fact, he probably lived long enough to have read or been familiar with one or more of the other Gospels.  Which is really interesting since he decided to tell the story of Jesus in a completely different way.  At times, he is possibly writing in order to deal with issues that had arisen after the writing of the other Gospels, such as Gnosticism or misunderstandings about John the Baptist.  However, his focus is often different.  John focuses more on the humanity of Jesus than either his teachings or his miracles.  John is more interested in Old Testament connections and patterns than the others tended to be.  John seems less interested in chronology and more interested in meaning.  Where Luke is a great history, John is great literature.  What’s important is that John knew that there were other Gospels out there and he felt like there was more that needed to be said.  And even at the end of his Gospel, he simply says there aren’t enough libraries in the world to tell all that Jesus did.  John knew that he needed to add these stories to what was already out there and we need to hear them today.

One example of this is how John begins.  It does not begin with a genealogy or story about Jesus’ birth.  It begins with a grand poetic description about “the word.”  The word was in the beginning and created and has become flesh.  It connects Jesus with all that God has ever done, is doing, and will do.  It resonates with the grand narrative of Genesis 1.  It emphasizes the relationship between God and Jesus, and the relationship that the world should also be a part of.

Then John quickly moves into talking about John the Baptist.  The Gospel of John spends more time on the Baptizer than any other Gospel.  For whatever reason, John wants his audience to be very clear about who John the Baptist was, and perhaps more importantly, who he wasn’t.  If you read Acts 18:26, there is this statement that Apollos taught accurately about Jesus but only knew the baptism of John the Baptist.  He had to be taught more accurately the way of the Lord.  It’s unclear what it means that he only knew the baptism of John, but apparently there were still some groups who were giving too much credence to the teachings and importance of John the Baptist.  This Gospel is going to make clear that John was a herald and prophet and great preacher, but not the Messiah.  John must become greater so that Jesus must become less.

Finally, the chapter ends with the calling of Nathanael.  There are two wonderful moments in this narrative about Nathanael.  First, when he first hears about Jesus his immediate response is at best a semi-racial slur against  Jesus’ family, friends, and community.  Secondly, Jesus’ first impression of Nathanael is that he is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.  We have no idea why Jesus says this or what this statement about Nathanael is based on, and neither does Nathanael who says, “How do you know me?”  Jesus then replies with the most bizarre statement in the whole exchange, “I saw you under the fig tree before Phillip called you.”  Suddenly Nathanael is convinced.  WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED UNDER THE FIG TREE!?!?!  This is one of the most mysterious and intriguing passages in all of the Gospels.  Does it have some connection to him having no deceit?  Was it amazing because the fig tree was far out of Jesus’ sight?  Was it the knowing he was at the fig tree or the implied knowledge of what was going on there that convinced Nathanael?  We don’t really know, but I sure wish I did.

Anyhow, the Gospel of John begins with a grand poem connecting Jesus to both the Creator and the creation.  It makes clear that John the Baptist must become less so Jesus can become greater.  And Jesus begins gathering his disciples, starting with some who leave John to follow the greater teacher and ending with Nathanael and whatever happened under the fig tree.  We are off to a great start.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2013 in John

 

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Matthew 8 – Healing, Exorcisms, and Authority

This chapter does something really important.  Jesus has been baptized, tempted, chosen Apostles, and recently given his huge influential sermon on what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like when Messiah comes.  If you know Jesus, it shouldn’t surprise you that almost everything he said turned the conventional wisdom of the day on its head.  The people expected him to overthrow Rome, but Jesus preached loving enemies.  They wanted wealth and blessing and he preached blessings on the poor and broken-hearted.

So leaving that sermon (on the mount) perhaps its not surprising that Matthew is going to spend a chapter giving Jesus’ credentials.  How can we know that this man has the authority to say the audacious things he has been saying?  Well let’s see…

He heals a leper and then goes on to do something truly remarkable: he heals a Roman Centurion’s servant.  What’s so remarkable about that you say?  Well I will tell you.  First, not many Roman Centurions travel to a Hebrew teacher and plead that he save his servant.  In our context it’s hard to even begin

Yep…this is the image I selected for long distance healing. I have been looking at it for ten minutes and still can’t decide if I am proud or embarrassed.

understanding this level of humility.  The Centurion is serving his servant.  The Roman is begging from a Jew.  He insists that his Roman Centurion home isn’t worthy of the Jew’s presence.  The Roman acknowledges that the God of the Jews is superior to any of the gods of Rome.  Finally, after all of this, he actually has enough faith in both God and Jesus to imply that Jesus can do a long distance healing.  Now stop and think about it.  There’s lots of healings recorded in the Bible, but there are not many that happen from a distance.  And yet Jesus does it without hesitation.  That’s serious power.

And then Jesus goes on to heal some at Peter’s house, including his mother-in-law (if you missed this, stop for a minute and realize that this means that Peter is married.  We don’t know much more than that, but it does mean that at least one of the Apostles was married).  He drives out demons (it should also be mentioned that we have no record of Peter’s mother-in-law being demon possessed, which is too bad because that would have been great for so many really bad preacher jokes).

The Rock in Stormy Waters

The Rock in Stormy Waters

Then, Jesus and the Apostles put out to sea and in a terrifying storm (even to some fishermen), Jesus stands up and simply calms the waves, the wind, the storm.  Jesus has authority to heal, the cast out demons, to calm storms.  He can do it when he’s close and when he’s far away.  He has authority.  So if you are reading Matthew’s Gospel for the first time, you finished the Sermon on the Mount wondering if this guy has any business saying these things he just said and then you are informed in Matthew 8 that Jesus in fact has every authority to do anything, command anything, say anything.

So it doesn’t matter what the cost of discipleship is…get on board (or stay in the storm).

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Matthew

 

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Matthew 3 – God With Us

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea.” – This is a horrible transition for a biography of Jesus’s life! How vague is this? What days? How long has it been since they moved? What are some of Jesus’ childhood stories? What was it like raising baby-God? Was he picked on at school?! What kind of education did he receive? What kind of relationship did he have with the rest of his family? Why is he in Judea? Why would he want to be baptized by John? These all seem like good biographical questions…but they don’t interest Matthew, or the other Gospel writers, at all. The Gospels are not intended to be biographies, at least in the way that we think of biographies. The story that Matthew is writing is the story of “God with us.” This transition of “In those days” is a reminder that the time is God’s time.

We need to stop for a moment to be reminded that the Gospels are not written as biographical information so we can piece together all of the moments of Jesus’ life and make decisions after accumulating the evidence. Matthew was written to give us the information we need to know to draw us into the Kingdom of God. God is with us…and he calls us to be with him.

John’s call to repent is not a call for us to feel guilty about the things we have done. Repentance is a calling for a new way of thinking. A new way of seeing the world. Repentance is not an invitation into the benefits of the Kingdom but an invitation to follow Christ. As we continue through this Gospel, keep in mind what Jesus is calling us to when he calls us to follow him.

The Messiah is coming and John is in the wilderness proclaiming this reality. We are currently in the season of Advent. I know this is not something that a lot of us recognize but I want to stop for a moment to mention the season. Advent is the time spent in anticipation of the coming of Christ, the Messiah. This season takes on double meaning. On one hand, it is a preparation and anticipation for the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. But at the same time, it is a reminder that we are the ones in the desert anticipating and proclaiming the coming of Christ, the Messiah, in his second coming. There was great anticipating for the Messiah so when John went out to the desert, people took notice. As you prepare for Christmas, keep in mind the anticipation and the excitement we should have for the coming of the King.

One last comment, and I know there’s a lot I haven’t covered, in the story of Jesus’ baptism, we see heaven open and the Spirit descend on Jesus. The last time the Jews saw the Spirit of God descend in the wilderness was when they built God the tabernacle to live in. God was with them. They then built God a temple and God was with them. God left the temple and the people were taken into exile. Though they are back in Jerusalem, they are still in exile because God is not present in the temple. He is not with them. In the baptism of Jesus we see the Spirit of God descend upon him. Heaven and earth have rejoined together. Not in the temple this time but in Jesus, the Messiah, God with us.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Bible Blog, Matthew

 

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Matthew 2 – Prophecies are a Pattern

One of the challenges we will have in Matthew, and we have already seen in the great comments made yesterday, is that Ryan and I will often not be able to cover all of the valuable content in each chapter.  Please continue adding to what we don’t cover through the comments and if you missed yesterday’s comments be sure to go back and check them out.  Today I want to look at the three prophecies discussed  in chapter 2 and get an idea what Matthew is doing with the prophets.

It wasn’t quite this simple…

Matthew 2:6  “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”

This is from Micah 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

It comes from a section of Micah that is showing that even though Israel has suffered through horrendous kings, that God will bring them a good and faithful king.  However, it also speaks of how that king will protect Israel from the Assyrians.

Matthew 2:15  “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

From Hosea 11:1  “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”

Matthew applies the prophecy to Jesus, but you can see that the context of Hosea speaks of Israel’s lack of faithfulness to God even after He brought them up out of slavery in Egypt.

Matthew 2:18  “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

From Jeremiah 31:15-17  “This is what the Lord says:  “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.”

This passage is talking about the exiles in Babylon returning home to Jerusalem.  At first glance, Matthew almost seems to be taking this prophecies out of context.  However, that misunderstands Jewish expectation of the Messiah and understanding of prophecy.  Bill does a great job of dealing with this in his book “The Moses Connection.”  The Gospel writers understood the role of the Messiah to be the one who comes and in a single person becomes the ultimate Israelite, experiencing all of Israel’s history in a single life.  

Jesus experiences the slaughter of baby boys his age as Moses did.  Jesus must go to Egypt to survive and then God brings him back up out of Egypt, just as he brought Israel out of Egypt.  Jesus will now ultimately fulfill all of the prophecies about bringing Israel back from exile by bringing them to a greater and more permanent kingdom that no enemy can destroy.

Our modern concept of prophecy would be something like, “During the reign of Herod a baby boy will be born in a manger to an unwed mother.  You will know him when he heals a blind person using mud.”  But the Old Testament prophecies didn’t work that way, especially in the Gospels.  Instead, all of Israel’s history is laid out in the Old Testament as a pattern for the Messiah.  When the Messiah came, his life reflected the pattern of Israel’s long and difficult history.  And it was a history that was left unresolved, but can now come to its ultimate resolution in the man Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah whose life fit the pattern set by the Old Testament and who can bring to an end the tumultuous story of the Israel and God and open the story of God’s Eternal Kingdom to the entire world.

If you are a Jew reading this, you are wondering if this baby boy was spared from a murderous king to be the next Moses, bringing Israel out of slavery and into a new covenant.  You might recognize Micah’s prophecy and realize Matthew is telling you about the good king to come.  You would hear the words of Hosea and be reminded that God saved Israel from Egypt as he saved this boy Jesus and realize that even greater salvation might be coming.  And perhaps Jeremiah brings this vision of great deliverance from occupying nations and the establishment of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple in all the glory God has promised.

We tend to read Matthew 2 and focus on Magi and Herod and the narrative elements.  But a Jew in Jesus’ time would read this with wide eyes hearing the echoes of Israel’s history resonating promises of God’s future glory.  But how could all of that come in the form of this one baby boy?

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Matthew

 

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Acts 18 – Into All the World

Paul Begins His Third Missionary Journey 

Not a lot happens in Acts 18.  This chapter does draw our attention to a transition that has been taking place for about five chapters now.  The first 12 chapters of Acts really focus on the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel.  However, it isn’t until around chapter 13 that the book takes on a much larger scale.  Starting with Peter’s vision and Paul’s missionary journeys, Acts begins to show us in so many ways that Jesus isn’t only the King of Israel.  He is in fact King of all the nations.

This, of course, causes problems on several levels.  First, Jews who were initially enthusiastic about joining a Jewish religion espousing the risen Jesus as Messiah might not be as excited to find out that this Messiah saves Gentiles too.  Secondly, the zealous Jewish crowd now has even more reasons to oppose this Messianic movement.  They didn’t like how the Apostles argued that a man crucified by Romans could be God’s Messiah. They didn’t like that they shared a part of the blame for his death.  They didn’t like the shift in power.  But they really didn’t like the idea that Gentiles have an equal share in God’s new Kingdom.

But in addition to those problems, the Christians are now claiming that Jesus is God in the flesh.  They call him names like King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace.  These aren’t original names.  In fact, these names already belonged to Caesar, who understood himself to be God in the flesh.  I think you see how Jesus becoming King of all nations can be problematic in more ways than one.

And yet, the early Christians continued to proclaim everywhere they went that this Jesus was the Messiah, that he was resurrected from the dead, and that he now has all authority on heaven and earth.  The only question is whether or not you are willing to join him in turning the world upside down (or perhaps we should say rightside up)?

Acts 18 gives us some of the logistics of this international project of proclaiming the good news all over the place.  We get details on who is preaching and where and who is listening and who isn’t.  There is a section that shows that Paul is getting so frustrated with the Jews refusal to accept Jesus that he starts spending more time with Gentiles.  It’s simply another part of this transition to understanding that Jesus is Lord of all.

The troubling part of this is that everywhere people went and talked about this Jesus they started riots, got thrown in jail and got chased out of town.  I wonder why that doesn’t happen much today?

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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