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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 3 – Crawl Back in Where?

If you manage to read the Gospel of John without laughing, then you need to go back and read it again.  If Nicodemus could redo this story, he probably would.  It’s really quite far from flattering.  Here, a Rabbi and leader in the Jewish Council comes to meet Jesus at night.  My dad used to say about curfew, “Nothing good happens after 11pm. So if you’re out later than that then either you are doing something bad or having something bad done to you.  Either way, you’ll be home before then.”  Clearly Nicodemus thought that meeting with Jesus was the kind of thing that could only happen after curfew.  Not exactly taking a stand here when he thinks that he wants to meet this potential Messiah but he doesn’t want people to know about it.

So Nicodemus opens by acknowledging Jesus is a great teacher from God, and Jesus jumps right to the heart of things by saying that nobody can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.  Then Nicodemus essentially says, “But Jesus, I won’t fit back inside my mom again.  How could you want me to do that?”  Jesus now must clarify that he is not speaking of a fleshly rebirth that requires a midwife, but a spiritual one of water and spirit.  Perhaps the verse at the heart of the entire passage is when Jesus says, “You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things?”  I can’t even imagine Nicodemus’ shame.

Jesus goes on to explain what it’s all about.  The Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn or judge (as most expected him to do) but rather to save and to heal.  Those who placed their faith in him would receive eternal life.  Those who did not put their faith in him would be condemned.  For a Jew, this was turning his world upside down.  No mention of obedience to Torah.  No mention of covenant.   No mention of faithfulness to Yahweh.  Believe and be saved.  Don’t and be condemned.  The text then connects what Jesus is saying here to the discussion of light and darkness earlier in the book.  The light has come and will defeat the darkness, but the darkness of the world will continue to stand against the light.

The implications here are clear…”Nicodemus, you have a choice to make.  Will you believe or be condemned?  Will you be on the side of light or darkness?  The time is coming and is here to choose sides.”

The last part of this chapter transitions back to the diminishing role of John the Baptist.  As the book continues, it will continue to portray Jesus as greater and John as less.  In this passage John says exactly that in verse 30.  During the Presidential primary process every few years, the time will come when a candidate realizes that he will not be the winner and that another will.  At that time, the major news of the day is how strong of an endorsement the defeated candidate gives to the presumed victor.  In this case, it is a resounding and total endorsement.  John’s own followers have started following Jesus.  Jesus is baptizing more people.  John has testified that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus is becoming continually greater while John’s role becomes further diminished.  Jesus’ ministry is just beginning while John’s moves towards it’s conclusion.  The Gospel of John wants there to be no confusion as to which of these two is the Son of God, the Messiah, the greater.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in John

 

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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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Luke 3 – Messianic Expectations

Luke 3

John comes out preaching in a ways that would get most of our preachers fired from their churches. He has the voice of a prophet that people typically do not want to hear. He is our in the wilderness ringing the bell of repentance. He rings the bell that the Lord is coming. John is preparing the way for the Lord…but what does that mean to the people who went out to listen to him?

God has always had the desire to be with his creation. He is seen manifested in the Garden in Genesis 3. Heaven and earth were then split apart because of sin, setting the scene of the drama of God pursuing his creation. Since the election and formation of Israel, God has desired to be with his people. His glory was revealed in the tabernacle, while they were in the wilderness, and then he had done so in Solomon’s Temple. Temple and royalty belonged closely together. Solomon built the Temple and established a pattern that would remain through the first century. It is important to note that the Temple-builder was the true king, and vice versa.

The symbolism of the Temple was designed in order to express the belief that not only was it the center of the Jewish nation, but of the world and even the cosmos. In being YHWH’s dwelling-place, it was in fact the location of the intersection of heaven and earth. With the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians came catastrophic implications both theologically and politically. YHWH had abandoned the Temple to its fate. Glory had departed. The Davidic monarchy was cast aside. Heaven and earth were ripped apart. Worship was now impossible. All of this brought about a longing for return, a return from exile and even more a longing for YHWH to return to Zion. This longing was for the rebuilding of the temple and for YHWH’s presence to return, for heaven and earth to rejoin.

Jesus came with a message proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand. At the time of Christ, the people were anxious for the Messiah to come and carry them out of exile, the enemy would be defeated, and YHWH would finally return to Zion.  “God’s kingdom,” to the Jew-in-the-village in the first half of the first century, meant the coming vindication of Israel, victory over the pagans, the eventual gift of peace, justice and prosperity. It is hardly surprising that, when a prophet appeared announcing that this kingdom was on the horizon and that Israel’s God was finally going to sit on the throne, he found an eager audience. The people were longing for redemption and were looking for the signs of God’s return to the Temple. John’s heavy words rested on willing ears as people ran out to the wilderness looking for the Kingdom to come.

When Jesus was baptized, a voice came from heaven declaring “You are my Son, whom I love; with whom, I am well pleased.” – What strikes you about this scene?

What do you think Luke is trying to communicate with how he writes Jesus’ genealogy (Pay attention to the end)?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Luke

 

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Luke 1 – Story, Address, Magnificat

It is good to be back reading the Bible together! Kent and I will do our best to have each day’s posts up by midnight before. We invite you to comment, ask questions, give feedback, etc. We would love to make this an interactive blog so that we can encourage one another and spur one another towards growth.

Luke 1

Homer

I remember coming back from trips where I was with a pretty good-sized group of people. We made a lot of memories and had a lot of great stories to tell. Every time we would get together, the stories started flowing. We all knew the stories well and told them often. If someone was telling the story and got different details wrong, everyone was sure to correct them. We know how the story goes and we want it told correctly. Luke goes around collecting the story of Christ from the people who have been telling it and retelling it for a few decades and writes the longest of the four Gospels.

“Most excellent Theophilus” could be a real person, possible a Roman governor or local official, whom Luke has come to know. In one of the commentaries I read, it said that “Theophilus” could simply be a literary device depicting all who have heard about Christianity. This is a possibility because the name means “a lover of God” and could be a way of saying that this letter is addressed to “You!”

This was written somewhere in the late 60’s or early 70’s when a war was raging throughout Palestine. The Jews rebelled against the Roman’s in 66 and Jerusalem was destroyed in 70. This war resulted in the decimation of many of the towns and villages where Jesus had been seen and known. Not only were these towns being destroyed but the older generation was dying out and the communities who knew and saw Jesus were being dispersed or destroyed.

Luke writes this Gospel in a way that captures the human drama that is going on. The name “Jesus” doesn’t even occur till 30 verses in. Jesus isn’t even born till well into the story. He is going to tell us about Mary’s extraordinary pregnancy and Jesus’ unparalleled birth but he sets the stage to prepare us for these events.

What stands out to you about the reactions to Elizabeth’s pregnancy?

What stands out to you about the reactions to Mary’s pregnancy?

We have a tendency to not focus too much on Mary because we don’t want to be mistaken for elevating her higher than warranted. I think we really miss out when we don’t pay her any attention though. Imagine being a young girl and receiving the news that Mary received. How would your song compare to hers? What strikes you about her response of song?

 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about today’s reading. See you tomorrow in Luke 2.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Luke

 

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