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John 21 – Fishers of….fish?

This is an odd chapter to me for several reasons.  First, let’s review what we know about what all is going on around this story.  We know that Jesus was with the Apostles for several years during his ministry.  Jesus, as he predicted, went to Jerusalem and was arrested by the chief priests and religious leaders and handed over to the Romans, who crucified him.  Three days later he was resurrected and shortly after appeared to the women in the Garden and the disciples in the upper room where they were gathered.  Jesus spent some part of 40 days with the disciples and Apostles explaining things to them.  He then ascended to prepare a place for his followers to go.  About 40 days later the Spirit is going to come upon the Apostles with power and they will preach the Gospel in every language and 3,000 will be baptized and begin the church.

So John 21 falls somewhere in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.  He has already appeared to the disciples twice before (v. 13).  And here is what I find interesting…the Apostles seem to lack any sense of purpose or direction.  It appears that they are sitting around one day and Peter says to a couple of the others, “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I am going fishing tonight.”  And not just casual vacation fishing; this is occupational catching fish in nets for money fishing.  They aren’t out preaching or teaching.  They aren’t in prayer or even meeting in an upper room any more.  There are only a few of them there.  It seems like they don’t really know what’s next.

There is an interesting thing here that we see in almost every text where Jesus appears to people after his resurrection: they sort of recognize him.  There is always this suggestion that they recognize him and can tell that he is who they know he is, but also an implication that he looks a little different.  Jesus, as the firstborn of among the dead is in his resurrection body and we, as Christians can look forward to our own resurrection body someday.  And what seems to be the case is that we will be different yet recognizable.

It’s also weird to me that Peter puts his outer garment on and then jumps in the water.  Apparently a strong swimmer to swim fully clothed.  I also like that we are told exactly how many fish they caught, which is apparently far beyond what nets can usually hold without breaking.  Perhaps this should be known more as the miracle of the super strong nets.

The story then moves to the three part questioning of Peter’s love for Jesus.  Of course, by the third questioning Peter is hurt.  His best friend and the one who he proclaimed to be the Messiah is questioning his loyalty and love for him.  It’s hard to know if Jesus is showing some undoing of the three denials in way that is getting back at Peter or has some redemptive force.  It’s also possible that Jesus is just really trying to drive home the importance of taking care of the “sheep” or followers of Jesus.

And then, just as we come to the end of that somehow redemptive, somehow commissioning conversation Jesus tells Peter in some cryptic way how he is going to die.  Church tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down on a cross.  What’s really somewhat humorous is that Peter looks over at the disciple whom Jesus loved (presumably the Apostle John and author of this Gospel), and he asks Jesus, “What about him?”  This is a grown up version of a conversation I have with my toddler children on a fairly consistent basis…”How come I have to _______ while she gets to __________?  That’s not fair.”  Jesus simply responds, “What business is that of yours?”  Good answer Jesus.

Finally, the entire Gospel ends with John stating that this is simply a snapshot of the endless volumes that could be written about all of the things Jesus did and said during his lifetime, which is a pretty powerful conclusion to the book.  On the other hand, it’s almost that John just said, “Well, I guess that’s enough.  I couldn’t ever tell you everything, but that’s enough.”

And on that note…the end.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in John, Uncategorized

 

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John 13 – Shamefully Clean Feet (Love Each Other)

In this chapter, John does something that we see in every Gospel: He connects Jesus telling his Apostles of his impending death with a story about the Apostles failing to understand the kind of servant life he is calling them to.  None of those stories is as emotionally evocative as this one in John’s Gospel.

Even though it doesn’t say so specifically here, we know from the other Gospels that this was the Passover meal that we know as the Last Supper.  The Passover meal would have begun with everybody walking into the room and the one who was “the least” would take off his outer garment and begin washing all of the others’ feet.  Often this would have been the youngest or one who was actually a slave.  The problem began when all of the Apostles began arguing about which one of them was the least.  While they were all bickering, Jesus simply slipped off his robe and picked up the wash basin.  When suddenly they looked up they would have all been mortified.  While they didn’t know who was the least, they knew that Jesus was the greatest.  This was wrong.  It couldn’t stand.  

And Peter said so.  But Jesus insisted.  This is the way it has to be.  Jesus is done lecturing the Apostles about how the greatest must become the least.  He is showing them.  You can’t imagine that this is some happy motivational moment for the Apostles.  It’s deeply convicting.  The most dominant emotion for most of them was likely overwhelming guilt.  While they were refusing to wash feet because they were arguing about who was the greatest, the one who was the greatest actually began washing.  It’s likely that for the rest of their lives, any time somebody mentioned “greatness” that the Apostles’ thoughts would have gone back to this moment and they would have begun washing other people’s feet.

John then stops for a moment to explain how Judas came to betray Jesus.  You might have noticed that John (the beloved disciple) is very harsh towards Judas.  Any time he is mentioned in John’s Gospel, I can almost imagine John spitting just to get the vile taste of Judas’ name out of his mouth as he tells the story.

At the same time, just because Satan prompted Judas and entered Judas does not mean that Satan is in charge.  Even at this dark moment of Jesus’ betrayal, John understands who is in charge.  Vs 3 says that Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power.  Vs 18 says that Judas betrayed him to fulfill scripture.  Vs 27 goes so far as to tell us that Jesus instructed Judas how to go about his betrayal when he tells him to go quickly.  It may look like Satan is getting his way, but there is no question in John’s mind who is in charge of everything.  Jesus is no victim.  Jesus is in control.

Finally Jesus returns to the other Apostles and gives them what might be considered “John’s Great Commission.”  At this final moment before his arrest, trial and conviction, Jesus has a moment to leave them with his final words and they are: “Love one another.  As I have loved you, you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  

We spend a lot of time in churches developing evangelism programs, marketing campaigns, visitor friendly whatever and that’s all good.  But it’s nothing without this, that we love each other.  Jesus has this unwavering belief that if his followers, both the Apostles and also just anybody who goes to church today, will just love each other then the world will know who we are and whose we are.

Want a church evangelism program?  Love everybody at your church.  Want a marketing campaign?  Treat other Christian like you love them.  Want to be visitor friendly?  Start by being member friendly.  Love each other.  Love each other.  The world will know you belong to Jesus if you just love each other.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in John

 

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2 Peter 3 – Scoffers Gonna Scoff

If you leave a kid alone in a room with a cookie, promising them that if they don’t eat that one cookie for five minutes then you will give them two cookies…what would happen?  Well more often than not they will eat the other cookie almost immediately.  (See video above)

If you leave a nation of people in the wilderness at the foot of a mountain for forty days while you write down all of the laws and tell them that if they obey your laws, you will be their God and they will be your people…what would happen?  Well more often than not they will make a golden calf and start worshiping it.  (See Exodus 32)

If you leave a world while you go and prepare a place for those who are faithful and obedient to you and instruct them that if they remain faithful until you return that they will live with you in your kingdom forever…what would happen?  Well Peter says that they will begin to forget and doubt and scoff.  (See 2 Peter 3)

They will become so doubt-filled that they will make fun of those who are faithful.  And yet Peter says, how can you forget who made everything?  How can you forget who made the oceans?  But even if you forget all of that, don’t forget that God’s timing is God’s timing.  Don’t you dare think that just because God doesn’t do things on your schedule that he isn’t in control.

So you must live as children who patiently don’t eat the cookie.  You must live as a people who believe God is still on the mountain.  You must keep the faith and keep living according the teachings given you.  Don’t fall from your secure position, but continue growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And then there is that great section where Peter acknowledges the valuable writings of Paul, which are admittedly complicated and difficult to read.  That always makes me laugh.  But it’s also really good to see the cooperation and community that existed between the two church leaders.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in 2 Peter

 

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2 Peter 1 – From a Shepherd

Peter’s first letter was written primarily to help the church figure out how to deal with dangers and threats from outside of the church.  This letter is written from Peter to help protect them from evildoers and false teachers who have come into the church.  Peter, a shepherd of the early church, recognizes the danger of a wolf among the sheep and writes this letter to protect them and also provide them with a guide for dealing with these problems in the future.  He has three primary purposes: to stimulate Christian growth, to combat false teaching, and to encourage watchfulness because of the knowledge that Jesus will return.

Chapter 1 has the beautiful poetic progression of what the Christian life should be.  The progression is in a list below so you won’t just skim over it.  You come to faith through knowledge and are no longer part of the evil desires that control this world.  For this reason:

  • to your faith add goodness
  • to goodness add knowledge
  • to knowledge add self-control
  • to self-control add perseverance
  • to perseverance add godliness
  • to godliness add mutual affection
  • and to mutual affection add love

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In the church today we often talk about how you must have faith and then you are saved.  Then, we have this idea as long as you hold on to your faith and stay out of the corruption of this world, then you are good to go (to heaven presumably).  However, Peter recognizes that faith and avoidance of sin are not the culmination of Christian living.  Rather, the precede Christian growth.  Once you have faith and end sinful living, that is when Christian growth begins.

So what does it look like?  Well, it looks like the list above.  Which means for Christians today, we should be able to take the list and use it as a measuring tool against which we can see where we need to be growing.  It’s also worth noting that the list begins with faith, knowledge and goodness, which many would consider the pinnacle of Christian living, and then ascends towards godliness, mutual affection, and love.  These are the higher order attributes of Christians and what all who claim to be Christians should be aspiring towards.

I would encourage you today to go through and honestly and prayerfully evaluate your own life by each of the items on the list.  In fact, we would all benefit from doing this on a regular basis.  Peter says in verse 8 that Christians are to have these qualities “in increasing measure.”  This is important because this isn’t a check list that anybody could ever say, “Love…got it…check.”  You must have these qualities in ever increasing measure.  So today I challenge you to be looking for ways to grow in each of these areas, especially those which have the most room for improvement.

After all, if you don’t do it, Peter believes you will be near-sighted and blind.  And in his world that meant you had no ability to take care of yourself, see danger ahead, or know what’s coming.  You would should stumble.  Instead, do these things and receive a rich welcome (read as awesome party) into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in 2 Peter

 

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1 Peter 4 – They Killed the Best Man

As Peter returns to the topic of persecution, he seems to do so with awareness that tougher and more intense persecution is coming for the church.  This discussion occurs at both the beginning and end of this chapter.  When you suffer, take on the attitude of Christ Jesus.  Later Peter says that we shouldn’t be surprised by our struggles, but instead should recognize that Jesus suffered and certainly his followers will share in his suffering, so rejoice that you are found worthy of sharing.  If you suffer, consider yourself blessed.  Don’t feel like you are being punished for something like a criminal, but recognize that your suffering is not shameful but honorable.  As such, when you suffer you should be drawn to a greater commitment, rather than being drawn away from God.

Peter’s argument here is a tricky one.  If you’ve ever heard somebody tell a teenage girl, “If he’s being really mean to you it means he actually really likes you.”  That could be true.  Or, perhaps somebody needs to tell her, “He’s mean and he’s just not interested in you.”  Now, I am not in any way trying to draw a parallel between God and suffering in the world and teen romance.  I am trying to show a similarity in the logic Peter is using here.  If you suffer, it’s because God finds you worthy so you should celebrate.  It’s a little bit (or a lot) counter-intuitive.  So what’s Peter doing here?

I’m reminded of a round table discussion I was a part of some years back at a youth ministry conference.  The topic was something like “Dealing with Complaints in Your Ministry.”  The guy leading it started out by discussing how we all assumed that if we are running an effective Bible-based youth ministry that we would not have dissension.    He then asked the group, “How many of you are perfect?”  Nobody.  “Has there ever been a perfect ministry leader, or even person?”  We knew this one…Jesus, of course.  “And what did they do to him?”  We all had to stop for a moment as we remembered that he was arrested, tried, flogged, and executed and we tried to find a way to say that.  Into the silence, the leader simply said, “So if Jesus was perfect and they killed him, why do you think they will like you?”

Peter’s doing a similar thing here in the text, and it’s really important.  Just like all of the ministers at that round table thought that if we did things right everybody would like us, the ancient world believed that if God is pleased with you, then you will be blessed.  This is dangerous logic for a people who are about to undergo radical persecution, so Peter has to make sure that they aren’t shamed by their suffering.  He reminds them that Jesus suffered and so when they suffer they are sharing in that with him.  They aren’t suffering as criminals, but are doing so as God’s blessed people.  In fact, you can even suffer and rejoice.  And when you do suffer, you certainly should not be discouraged in your faith, but should be encouraged.

In the middle of this discourse on how to deal with suffering is a contrast between faithless living and faithful living.  One is characterized by evil, sin, wild living and other junk.  The other is characterized by love, hospitality, and using our gifts for God’s Kingdom.  Live differently than the faithless people of this world.  When you do, you will likely suffer.  Love anyways.  And don’t be discourages because of your suffering or persecution.  Rather, recognize that it is an honor to suffer like your Messiah did, so take on his attitude and grow in your faith through it all.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in 1 Peter

 

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1 Peter 2 – Live Well Among Pagans

If you missed Ryan’s intro to the book yesterday, go back and read it now.

Now that you’ve read it, welcome back.  Here’s what I love: in both Peter’s world and our world there is a temptation to deal badly with persecution.  We shouldn’t assimilate, retreat, or retaliate.  1 Peter is going to tell us how we should deal with being marginalized in our society.  However, I do want to add my own two cents to a couple of Ryan’s thoughts.  He and I visited about this for awhile last night and while he pointed out that much of the language of 1 Peter seems targeted to Gentiles, I think there is a decent amount that seems directed to Jews as well (speaking of them as diaspora or using exilic language to describe how they are scattered).  I tend to think that this letter is directed to the broader audience of all Christians.  Ryan and I both thought the other made good points, but neither of us were convinced so we present you with both views for your consideration.  Either way, it does’t affect the meaning of the letter significantly.

I would also like to follow up on the type of persecution that was going on.  We know from Acts that a great amount of Jewish persecution (stoning, jail, riots) took place against the early Christians very early on.  We also know that later under Nero and Domitian there was a great and violent Roman persecution (fire, crucifixion, lions) against the Christians.  It is likely that 1 Peter writes sometime between these two great persecutions.  However, as Ryan mentioned, that doesn’t mean it was easy to be a Christian.  I have talked to Bill in the past about how hard it is to convert Greeks out of the Greek Orthodox Church.  They are often exiled from their families.  They can lose their jobs and be unable to find other work.  They can lose friends and social standing.  And while this isn’t lions, it is an extremely difficult culture to grow a church in.  Bill has shared with me before how often the young people go back to the Greek Orthodox Church because the cost is just too high.

America today becomes more and more like this every day.  So Peter has something to say to the churches today.  In chapter 2 he begins by connecting the Church to the Temple.  As the Temple was built of stones, the Church is built of living stones, the followers of Jesus.  This is extremely important to a scattered group of believers to know that God’s presence goes wherever they go and that it is not tied to a building.  Additionally, the Temple was the place where God’s presence intersected with this world.  Now, Peter powerfully declares that God’s presence intersects with this world through each of the people who believe in Jesus.  If you are a Christian today, then you are where God’s presence intersects with the world.  You should be like a tilted mirror that reflects God into the world and you should reflects the world back to God.

Peter then says several things that would have been like a punch to the stomach of any non-Christian Jew.  Christians are the chosen people.  Translated: Israel is no longer God’s chosen people; Christians are.  Christians are a royal priesthood.  Translated: Israel failed to be a mediator between God and the world, showing them what it means to be His people and inviting them in to a special relationship with Him; now Christians will accomplish this.  Christians are a holy nation.  Translation; It’s over Israel; the Church is where its at.  Christians are God’s special possession.  Translation: This is personal.

Then Peter transitions into instructions on how Christians are supposed to do all of this.  If they aren’t supposed to assimilate, retreat or retaliate, then what?  If they are now the holy nation, royal priesthood, and Temple, then what does that look like?  Pay attention now, because this is one of the most important principles in 1 Peter.  

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

  • Abstain from evil.  Quit sinning and doing bad things.
  • Live such good lives among the pagans (people who don’t go to church) that they don’t even believe their own attacks against you.  In fact they will praise God because of your good living.
  • Submit to every human authority (of course you can still send slanderous emails… he just meant in other ways you should submit).  Christianity wasn’t meant to overthrow governments and be political. It was supposed to be salt and light and use goodness, love, and forgiveness as tools of worldwide transformation.
  • If you live well there is no way people can smear your name of God’s people.
  • You are free, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.  You are free to choose God.
  • Behave yourself.  Good Christians are good citizens.  People, even non-believers, should want Christians as employees or in-laws.  Governments should desire Christian populations.

In a world going wrong, how can Christians turn things around?  Maybe if we are more “seeker friendly”, “make people feel at home” and churches feel like a mall or Starbucks…but if we are constantly trying to make the church in the world’s image, isn’t that just assimilation?  Well if the world is that bad then we should keep from letting ourselves be influenced by the world…and retreat in such a way that we also have no influence on the world.  Or perhaps we could boycott, form political action groups, and go after anybody who disagrees…retaliating until everybody lives by the standards of a God they don’t believe in (but we do).

Peter’s solution is shockingly simply.  Be in the world, but be different.  Be strangers and aliens in the world.  How different?  Good different.  Really good.  So good that people will look at you and the way you live and say, “I may not believe in their God, but I do believe that they believe in their God.”  That will make all the difference and God will take care of the rest.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2013 in 1 Peter

 

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1 Peter 1 – How to Live as Foreigners in America

I have really come to love this book over the last year or so. I don’t know if it is just where I am in my walk with Christ or what but I feel like it really speaks to where things are currently in the church in America. It is written by Peter, who as we know as the Apostle to the Jews (and Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles). Peter in this letter is actually writing to Gentiles, which will become a little more apparent throughout the reading. Interestingly he uses very Jewish language to speak to them. In the first two verses he refers to them as the diaspora or “Those who are scattered” and those who are chosen. The diaspora are the Jews who were scattered at the time of the exile, scattered to the nations. The Church at this time are the ones who were scattered, living as aliens in a foreign land.

Peter writes to those who are being persecuted. They aren’t undergoing state sponsored persecution to where they are being thrown into the coliseum or anything like that. This doesn’t seem to be the kind of persecution Peter is addressing. The church, being at the margins of society, are looked at funny, treated as a cult, has rumors spread about them, and are being treated as second-class citizens. In short…they just don’t fit in with the culture around them and society is going to make sure they understand that. The question Peter answers is, how are you to live in a foreign land that rejects you?

I am under the belief that this book hasn’t been overly relevant to Christianity in the West for the last 1700 years. The Church took the spotlight in society during the 4th century and has been at the top ever since. We are entering a time where 1 Peter is becoming more and more relevant as Christianity in our society moves from the center point back out to the margins. How should we respond?

There are three bad ways to respond to this culture shift:

Assimilate – Become like the culture around you. Blend in. Don’t do anything to stand out. Be a resemblance of the culture around you so you won’t be persecuted.

Retreat – Run away from the culture and separate yourself from it. Don’t have any interaction with it. Build big churches to hide in and invite people to it but do your best not to get outside of the walls or you will be corrupted.

Retaliate – Fight back the changing culture. Become violent, either verbally or physically, with the culture that is changing. Burn down clinics. Verbally abuse those whom you do not agree with. Etc.

The church has sadly responded poorly in different ways to the power shift that has taken place in our society. So…we need to be looking at what Peter says about living out our Christianity in the margins of society. Be looking for how he addresses this. Today, Peter reminds us of the salvation that we have received. This is something that the prophets searched intently to understand and the angels long for. Don’t take it for granted! It is this salvation that sustains you in the margins. God, chosen as his special possession, has accepted you and you have no need for acceptance from this society. This inheritance brings you into a Kingdom that is greater than the one you live in so live as aliens here.

In my recent studies of this book I’ve began to see that the focus of this letter is to remind them of what they did in their baptism and to let that reality shape who they are as foreigners in this world. Peter starts in v. 3 with “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection…” and goes on to talk about how great this transition is. The response to this transformation in baptism is for us to “Be holy, as he is holy.” In our new creation, Peter reminds his readers to “Love one another deeply,” because we have been “born again” of imperishable seed. The Church, marginalized in society, loves deeply like Brothers and Sisters because we’re born of the same seed. I look forward to seeing how this focus plays out throughout the letter coming to its climax in 3:21. Spend some time reflecting on your baptism and what it means for your life today.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in 1 Peter, Bible Blog

 

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Matthew 16 – Jesus tempted by enemies and friends

This chapter begins with one of several instances where Jesus responds to his critics by saying that he won’t perform miracles just to prove who he is.  It’s worth noting that this request is very similar to Satan’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.  “IF you are the Son of God, turn this stone to bread.”  “Cast yourself from the Temple and show all those people down there that you are the Son of God.”  “Declare yourself the Son of God and take worldly power and authority now.”  In Matthew 16, the temptation is “Prove all of us skeptics wrong; give us a great sign.”  Again, Jesus refuses to be baited.  Instead he tells them that the only sign they will receive is the Sign of Jonah.  In Matthew 12 he explains that while Jonah was in the belly of the sea creature for three days, Jesus will go into the earth for three days.  Both would emerge to bring repentance and salvation to those who heard their message.

From there, the text moves to an almost comical exchange of misunderstandings between Jesus and the disciples.  You have to know Jesus is getting fed up with their inability to understand even the most basic things he is saying.  Here’s a loose translation of what’s going on in this dialogue:

Jesus: Be cautious about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Disciple 1: What is he talking about?

Disciple 2:  I don’t know.  Something about yeast….maybe he’s talking about bread.

Disciple 3:  Oh man…he’s upset we forgot the bread again.  I guess he wants us to buy from somebody other than the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Bummer.

Jesus:  SERIOUSLY?!?  You think I am worried about bread?  Is there anything from our recent past that might make you think I am not worried about how to feed us, or maybe even us plus 5,000 men and I am not even counting women or children!  I even made you each carry back a basket of extra food!  Obviously I am not worried or even talking about BREAD!

Disciple 1: Oh….I see.  He means their yeast-like and contagious teachings that cause others to stumble.

Disciple 2 and 3 Together: Uh….I knew that.

Then, just when you think there is no hope for the disciples ever understanding anything Jesus says or does he asks them if they know who he is.  They do what all people do in Bible class and instead of answering for themselves, they answer on behalf of the mysterious “some people who think.”  Peter, however, comes through and finally delivers a win for the disciples and their understanding.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus has to smile.  Finally, they might just be starting to understand.

Maybe it’s time for them to get the big plan.  Jesus will die in Jerusalem.  Peter, the one who just figured out who Jesus really is, replies, “Uh…that’s not what Messiah is going to do.  Maybe you haven’t read the Prophets.  Messiah will never die at the hands of the Jewish leaders.  That’s not God’s plan.  Do it a different way.”  And there we have it.  Another echo of Satan’s temptation in the wilderness.  An echo of the temptation of the Pharisees.  Don’t do this God’s way.  Do it another way.  Do it now.  

Jesus responds as he always does to this temptation, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  I believe he was actually shouting at Satan and the echoes of that same temptation, now surfacing in the comments of his enemies (Pharisees) and his closest friend (Peter).  But Jesus doesn’t waver.

And then he tells his disciples.  You get it, then you don’t get it, but you must know this: if you will come after me, you won’t have the kind of glory you think I am headed towards.  You will have suffering, but you will receive God’s Kingdom, but it might not be what you expect.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Matthew

 

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Acts 10 – Five Observations about Cornelius

This picture took animals from Noah’s Ark and put them in Peter’s Blanket. The pig and the condor are the only two that make sense. Maybe the raccoon if Peter lived in Kentucky.

This is one of my favorite chapters in Acts.  Through the first nine chapters the book is all about Jews becoming Christians and Jews bring mean to Christians.  In Acts 10, Gentiles officially come on to the scene and they do it in a big way.  The chapter is almost comical, however, as Peter has to get hit in the head three times by unclean animals before even going to Cornelius and even then doesn’t haven any plan to actually offer an invitation until God’s Spirit enters Cornelius.  Finally Peter gets it and then has to go back to Jerusalem to explain his reasons for baptizing Gentiles.  Come on early Christians…catch up with God’s great vision for the entire world.  Anyhow, five observations about Acts 10:

1.  Cornelius is chosen because of his generosity to others.  This doesn’t mean he is saved by his generosity, but out of all the Gentiles who believed and prayed to God, Peter was sent to a Roman soldier.  The reason was his attention to the poor.  And we aren’t just talking about giving them money, but knowing and caring for the poor enough to pray for them.  This guy will fit in great with the early Christians.

2.  Peter is at Simon the Tanner’s house.  Tanners are the people who take the dead animals, skin them, and turn their skin into leather goods.  This was an “unclean” job.  Jews weren’t to touch dead things or touch people who touch dead things.  That’s all tanners did.  Peter is overlooking that prejudice to stay at Simon’s house.  He will associate with tanners but needs three visions to get him to visit a Roman Centurion.

3.  Peter doesn’t offer an invitation.  It appears that God jumps into the story at the moment Peter is about to conclude his sermon.  The Spirit enters the household of Cornelius before they are baptized.  I think Peter had no intention to offer baptism or admission to God’s Kingdom to this family so God had to preempt his conclusion.  When God does, all of the Jews with Peter are stunned.  “They can be Christians too?!”

4.  Peter’s response, “Surely nobody can stand in the way of their being baptized with water.  They have received the Holy Spirit just like we have.”  This statement seems far from a bold proclamation.  It’s part observation, part question, part proclamation.”  I almost picture him looking at those with him while shrugging his shoulders.  They must have all agreed and Cornelius’ family is baptized.  Clearly God’s vision for His Kingdom continues to be bigger than any of his followers had ever imagined.

5.  This is one of the few circumstances in the New Testament where somebody receives the Holy Spirit before they are baptized.  This appears to be the exception and not the rule (as evidenced by everybody’s response).  It is this very surprise that finally makes clear to all the Apostles that God’s Kingdom is for all people.  God’s surprising action is irrefutable, but it’s also important to know that it is surprising.  The fact that the Spirit arriving before baptism was so unusual is a powerful indicator that they all were accustomed to the spirit arriving AT baptism.

(Bonus observation: This is an unofficial opinion observation.  There doesn’t seem to be any call for Cornelius to quit his job.  Apparently being a Roman Centurion is something you can do and still be a Christian.  This might come as a surprise to pacifists and people who protest at soldiers funerals that God would choose a high ranking roman soldier to be the first Gentile convert.  This might be our Hot Topic on Friday this week.)

These were Jesus’ Apostles and they were still surprised by just how great and how vast God’s Kingdom was.  They couldn’t fathom just how big of a vision God was casting for them and all his followers to come.  In so many ways, I think we continue struggling to catch hold of God’s world-changing vision.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 2 – The Harvest Begins with Power

The Feast of Pentecost

Acts 2 begins with the coming together of Jews (and God-fearing Gentiles) who had come together for the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem.  This feast, 50 days after Passover, celebrated the first-fruits of the harvest.  The people would give to God the first earnings of their harvest both out of gratitude and in hopes that God would bless the remainder of the harvest to be gathered.  This makes it a very appropriate setting for God’s harvest of his people to truly begin.

For centuries, Israel had been waiting for a time (often referred to as the “last days”) where God would return Israel from exile back to a place of worldwide prominence.  There was unending study and speculation about how the prophets foretold of this coming time and the primary message of Acts 2 and Peter’s sermon is that we have arrived at that moment.  When Jesus leaves his followers, the know to wait for God’s Spirit to bring them power and they know that they are to usher in this brave new world, but other than that they don’t really seem to know what that will look like.  So, it should come as no surprise that we find them together in an upper room waiting for the signs telling them where to go.

Inasmuch as we recognize that heaven is the arena that God has direct authority and influence over, and that the world is the place where we live and operate every day, the events of Acts 2 show those two worlds colliding.   The Spirit comes down on Peter and the others filling them with such an energy and excitement that they immediately find themselves speaking to crowds of thousands from all over the world and (miraculously) in every known language, proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is the Messiah.  He begins by using the prophet Joel to demonstrate that this is the “last days” they have been waiting for, but that wickedness saw the Messiah killed, but that the Messiah has overcome all wickedness.

This miracle of uneducated men (and likely women) preaching so that every person heard them in their own language truly shows the undoing of the curse of Babel in Genesis 11.  When humanity egotistically rebelled against God, he scattered their languages and created division.  The first act of the spirit in this new Kingdom is to create unity through understanding of languages.  And yet, I couldn’t help but notice the skeptics in the crowd as I read today.  I have never really given them much attention, but it seems that there are some in the crowd who are so closed to the Gospel being presented that instead of hearing their language they only hear drunken babbling.  Jesus often spoke of those “with ears to hear.”  Did these people lack the faith and the ears to hear so that they didn’t get to experience this miracle, or did they simply hear but not listen as they offered only skepticism and criticism?  Why must some always refuse to open their ears to the power of God’s good news?

The Invitation

Peter is ultimately inviting the crowd to experience their own Exodus.  Thousands of years prior, Israel passed through water, out of slavery and oppression into a covenant relationship with God in a land of promise.  Peter now tells the people that they need their own exodus where they might pass through water out of slavery to sin and death and into a life of covenant and a life of abundant living.  While some were skeptics, thousands respond and are baptized that day to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I should mention, that they didn’t become “Christians.”  That term wouldn’t exist for awhile yet.  Most of those baptized believers went home that night believing in the Messiah they had always hoped and prayed for, who had come in a manner they had never imagined.  Their expectation was probably not that a new religion would come out of this, but that all Israel would soon join in their understanding and loyalty to King Jesus.  And while the rest of the book is about the working out of that process, these new believers do become something…

…One Family

The final section of this chapter shows what the first fruits of the harvest look like.  The first thing they recognize is that they are now a single unified family in Jesus Christ.  While it doesn’t appear that they sold their individual homes since that is exactly where they continued meeting, they did sell their extra property and they held everything in common.  While strangers doing this feels like a cult, we are completely comfortable with families living this way.  Leah and I don’t argue about who’s couch we are sitting on.  When Carter uses a plate, it’s as much his as it is mine.  That’s family, and immediately the church begins to operate in this way.

There are four things that we are told the church did all the time and we get the impression that these are fundamental things Christianity should always be about going forward.  They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teachings, they spent time in fellowship, the broke bread together and they prayed.  If you’re at a church and something other than these things is the main purpose, perhaps it’s time for a prayerful reading of this passage.  If you are missing these in your life, then perhaps its time for you to step more fully into God’s community.

The Kingdom Movement

The Spirit has come and we see the first-fruits of Jesus’ new Kingdom movement.  We see that it arrived with great power and energy and that it resulted in a people that thought of one another as family.  There is certainly other times where God works through quiet, peaceful and patient methods, but in this case we see grandeur and excitement.  And perhaps it should come as some condemnation that our churches today rarely do anything so exciting that somebody might wonder if we are drunk before breakfast.  And maybe we should be convicted that the church today is filled with wealthy and poor (which is good) and they don’t know each other’s names (which is bad).

What we do know is that God has a plan.  It includes the church.  And if you’re in the church, get ready to be part of something big.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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