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Mark 12 – Them r Fightin’ Words

You can ask any kid who has grown up in church, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”  They will almost certainly respond, “To save us from our sins.”  And this is a true answer, and one of great theological significance.  But sometimes when we read the Gospels, perhaps a more accurate answer to the question would be, “Because he ticked off the wrong people.”  

I can only imagine that there were times when somebody pulled Jesus aside and said, “Look, I like your stories and lessons as much as the next guy, but if you keep saying things like that to people like them…well…its things like that can get a guy killed.”  I can honestly say that I have never had opportunity to make somebody so mad at me that I could actually see in their eyes a burning desire to kill me.  I imagine it to be a very uncomfortable feeling.  Jesus felt that all the time.

This chapter begins with Jesus telling a story about a master who rents out his field and then sends his servants to gather the rent.  There are a lot of Jesus’ parables where he is subtle and has to explain them when he finishes.  This is not one of those.  Everybody knows what Jesus is talking about and who Jesus is talking about.  God left Israel as his steward in this world.  Among Israel were leaders who were made stewards of what God had entrusted them.  When God sent his servants (read prophets here) to collect what was due him, they abused and killed them.  Finally God is sending his son and you are going to kill him too.  Then God will come take away everything you have and give it to somebody else.

There’s no subtlety here.  YOU wasted what God gave you.  YOU refused to give God his due.  YOU abused and killed the prophets.  YOU are now going to kill God’s own son that he loves.  And God will take everything away from YOU and then kill YOU.

It should come as no surprise that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law now launch a full campaign to destroy Jesus’ reputation first, and when that fails they begin trying to trap him legally.  Eventually they will just arrest him, make up charges, and use the force of their political influence to push through his execution.

So having just been told God was going to take everything from them and kill them, they begin an attempt to trap him.  Look who the religious leaders send here: Pharisees (loyal to Israel and God) and Herodians (loyal to Herod and Rome).  They ask if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar.

Jesus has several options here:  1.  He can say you should pay the Temple tax and not Caesar.  This would obviously land him in trouble with the Herodians and the Roman authorities.  Jewish leaders who opposed paying taxes were generally treated badly by Rome.  Hint: This can get you killed.  2.  Jesus can say they should ignore the Temple tax and pay Caesar.  This would discredit Jesus’ ministry.  You can’t very well claim to be the Messiah when you disregard the Temple, God’s authority, and cow to Rome.  And it would certainly upset those who hold the Temple and its leaders in high regard.  Hint: This can get you killed.  3.  Jesus can suggest paying both, but to the poor huddled masses who he so often had compassion on, this would be a huge burden.  One they could not bear.  4.  Jesus can brilliantly reply that they should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

In doing so, Jesus first instituted the separation of church and state.  Just kidding.  I think.  Mostly it functioned as great rhetoric.  Imagine if you were a Herodian, who supported Rome.  You would hear Jesus’ words and think, “That’s right.  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…but wait…he just made it sound like what is owed God is of greater significance.”  You would be disarmed and yet be left scratching your head.  On the other hand, if you were a Pharisee who despised Rome, you had no argument against Jesus’ response.  You couldn’t say that the money wasn’t Caesar’s; his face was on it and you had brought along his supporters who would willingly turn on any opposition.  Jesus shows his great political and rhetorical acumen in this situation.  Certainly, Jesus sprung the trap but only the religious leaders got caught in it.

He proceeds to do this over and over again throughout this chapter, culminating in a poor widow who placed two small coins in the Temple offering.  Jesus praises her for her radical generosity.  One can’t help but notice the contrast between the petty and self-righteous faith of the religious leaders and the genuine and sacrificial faith of this poor woman.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Mark

 

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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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John 9 – Oh No He Didn’t

Okay…so…whaaaaat?

Q: Did this man sin or his parents that caused his blindness?  A: Neither.

Phwew…that would have been uncomfortable.  Then Jesus says that the man was born blind and has had a terrible life of blindness so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  And now I am really uncomfortable.    Jesus makes it sound like God made somebody blind for their entire life for God’s benefit.  I don’t think that’s really what Jesus means, but his statement is at least troubling.  Personally, I think he’s refuting the idea that all illness is tied to sin (in contrast with John 5) and stating that instead of having evil in him (as many assumed at that time), he will have God working in him.

So Jesus spits on the ground, makes a mud pie, and sticks it on the guy’s blind eyes.  Wait…what?  Did Jesus need the spit, the dirt, the combination, or was this for the guy’s benefit (as in “You’ll know you’ve washed enough to get all the blindness off when there’s no more mud)?  Okay…ready for my opinion?  In John’s Gospel, when Jesus heals on the Sabbath he always does something or commands the healed person to do something that the Pharisees will consider “work.”  In this case, it’s making mud pies for the eyes.  Earlier it was picking up a mat.  Either way, it’s picking a fight with the Pharisees.  Again…this is my opinion.  But if it is what Jesus is going for…well it works.  And now for the awesome conversations:

  • Isn’t that the blind beggar?
  • No, that isn’t him.
  • How can you tell?
  • Because he isn’t blind.
  • Hey, you over there with the seeing-eyes.  Are you the blind guy?
  • I am…I mean I was…er…yes.
  • Then why are you seeing?
  • Jesus put some mud on my eyes and I washed it off and now I can see.
  • Where did Jesus go?
  • I don’t know.

Enter Pharisees:

  • Hey blind guy, how can you see?
  • He put mud on my eyes.  I washed.  Now I see.
  • Whoever did this cannot be from God.  He breaks the Sabbath.  How can a Sabbath-breaking sinner perform signs like this?
  • Hey blind man, what do you think?  It was your eyes he opened.
  • He is a prophet.
  • You weren’t blind.  This guy is faking.  Somebody go find this guy’s parents.

Enter Parents

  • Hey parents, is this your son?  Is this your blind son who was born blind?  How can he see?
  • Well first, he is our son.  We know that.  Secondly, he was born blind.  We are quite sure of that.  But we don’t know how he can see or who did it.  Please don’t kick us out of synagogue.  You should ask him.  He is a grown man after all.
  • Hey blind man, come back over here.  Hey, seriously…tell us the truth.  We already know this guy is a sinner.  What did he do?  How can you see?
  • I already told you and you didn’t listen.  Why do you want to hear again?  So you can become his disciples?
  • (Pharisees’ heads explode in anger/insults follow)  We aren’t his disciple…you are his disciple.  We follow Moses.  We don’t even know where this guy is from!
  • You’re kidding.  I mean…you are kidding, right?  He healed my blindness.  God listens to him and God doesn’t listen to sinners.  Only people from God can do things like healing a man born blind.  Therefore…
  • You were such a sinner at birth you were born blind…what do you know?  Get out of here!

Enter Jesus:

  • Heard you got thrown out.  Do you believe in the Son of Man?
  • Who is he?  If you tell me I will believe.
  • You’ve SEEN him; in fact, it’s me.
  • Lord, I believe.
  • I have come to judge people.  The blind will see and those who see will become blind.
  • (Pharisees nearby)  Hey, are you calling us blind?
  • If you were blind, there would be an excuse for the way you are.  But you say you can see, so what could be your excuse?  You must be held responsible.

This is one of my favorite chapters in the Gospel of John.  It is so clear who is in control.  It is so clear who cares about people.  It is so clear how foolish those who are opposed to Jesus really are.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2013 in John, Uncategorized

 

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John 5 – Healing, Confrontation, and Testimony

I wonder what was going through Jesus’ mind when he asked the paralyzed man by the pool, “Do you want to get well?”  We don’t really know.  The guy responds with a very practical response about not being able to get into the pool which was believed to have healing powers, although he doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question.  Jesus then just tells him to get up and walk.  In that moment, muscles that hadn’t existed or moved in thirty-eight years were strong enough to carry a man anywhere he wanted to go.  Unlike modern surgeries, which can heal people and require rest and strengthening, Jesus’ miracles don’t require physical therapy or further treatment.  Get up and take your mat with you.  It all happened so fast that the guy didn’t even know who healed him, so he didn’t know who the Pharisees could blame when he got busted carrying his mat.

Later when he runs into Jesus, Jesus tells him to stop sinning or something worse might happen to him.  We don’t know what Jesus is specifically talking about.  Was the man sinning because of something he said to the Pharisees?  Does Jesus know about a sin problem that the man had that was related to his illness?  Later in chapter 9, the Apostles will ask whose sin made a man blind and Jesus will respond that his blindness wasn’t caused by sin.  However, in the case of this paralytic, Jesus at least implies that illness can be related to sin.  It appears that sometimes sin can have actual health related physical consequences for people and sometimes people just have health problems.  It’s important that we both recognize the effect that sin can have on our bodies, but it’s also important that we don’t presume to know when somebody’s illness is sin-related or not.  That’s not our place.

The conversation then shifts as Jesus provides both evidence and testimony to support his authority to do the things he is doing and say the things he is saying.  He starts out by saying that he isn’t going to bother to testify about himself since they won’t listen to him and then provides what they must consider valid evidence of his authority and claims.

  • I speak with the authority of the Father.
  • I act in accordance with the will of the Father.
  • John the Baptist has testified to the truth.
  • The works God gave me, that I am doing, testify that my Father sent me.
  • My Father testified regarding me, but you don’t listen to my Father
  • The Scriptures testify to me, but you refuse them too.
  • Moses wrote about me and testified about me, but you apparently don’t believe Moses either.

So let’s review here: John the Baptist, God the Father, the Torah (Scriptures), Jesus’ miracles from God, and Moses all testify that Jesus is the Son of God.  So if you don’t believe Jesus then you refuse to listen to all of these.  So go ahead and tell everybody in the crowd here, who exactly do you follow?

Jesus better be careful insulting these guys too much or they might try to kill him….wait…

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in John

 

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Matthew 23 – Blinded By Hypocrisy

For the most part, Jesus allows those who are questioning him to set the agenda. He is now making it clear that he is not there for discussion. His unrelenting concern for holiness is made clear in his severe attacks on the scribes and Pharisees. He calls them to task and doesn’t hold back many punches. Jesus is making it clear that the scribes and Pharisees cannot acknowledge that he is the Messiah because the do not live by the very law they advocate. Their hypocrisy blinds them from seeing Jesus for who he really is.

I’ve grown up hearing that we are not to call anyone “father” because we only have one Father. This almost was always in reference to the catholic use of “father.” I’ve always scratched my head about this because Paul implies that he is Timothy’s “father in the faith” and even refers to himself as the father in Christ to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor 4:15). How literally should we take this command? Should we call anyone teacher or instructor? Jesus seems to be addressing the power structure that was in place at the time. When these titles (rabbi, father, instructor) are used in order to justify power over others they should not be used. When these titles are being abused in order to make them do things that are not of God they are to remember who their true rabbi, father, and instructors are.

The passion of the scribes and Pharisees for saving the lost is impressive. They would cross see and land just to make a convert. But their hypocrisy and the weight they place on others makes their converts “twice as much a child of hell” as themselves. This might be one of the harsher things that have been said.

The woes Jesus gives here are not unique in Israel’s life. I’m going to lean on my friend Stanley Hauerwas’ comments on this section. “Rather, they are a continuation of the prophets’ condemnation of the misuse of Israel’s gifts. Isaiah 5 is one long harangue against those who have misused the vineyard given by the Lord. Those who make iniquitous decrees, write oppressive statutes, and turn aside the needy from justice are condemned in Isa. 10. Jeremiah 13:27 condemns the abominations and adulteries of Jerusalem, and Amos 5:18-24 famously mocks those who desire the day of the Lord. Jesus stands in a long line of God’s prophets who in the name of God’s gift of the law to Israel pronounced judgment on those who have betrayed Israel. Jesus is not standing outside Israel when he pronounces the woes on the Pharisees and scribes, but rather his judgments are the judgments of Israel against herself.”

After pronouncing the same judgments of the Prophets’ before him, he laments for Jerusalem because he knows his fate, and their fate, is the same as before. He will be rejected and killed just like the prophets before him. We see Jesus’ passion in the end of this chapter. His motherly instinct to cover those he loves with his protection. The image of the hen gathering her brood is a powerful one. If fire were to come, the hen would gather them under her wings to provide protection, sacrificing her own life in order to save theirs. Jesus is the only way to salvation but they are not willing to gather under his protection. We too often live in a way where we look to ourselves to provide our own protection when Jesus calls us to simply gather under him. Set aside your arrogance, your pride, and gather under his wings.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2013 in Bible Blog, Matthew

 

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Matthew 22 – Impossible Questions

The task of blogging about everything contained in this chapter is a little daunting, so if I seem brief it is in an attempt to cover some of all of it.

The chapter begins with a parable that is unique in many ways.  Most often with parables, you need to focus on the main point.  If you get into multiple lessons from minor details you are probably inventing those yourself and reading them into the parable.  This one is different because it feels like it ends three times and each time has a different main point.  Personally, I think this is a valuable tool in helping us deal with the inclusive or exclusive nature of the Kingdom of God.

The parable begins with a crowd who has been invited to a feast but ultimately decline.  It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine the people of Israel, especially the religious leaders, as this crowd.  They have been invited to the coronation of the Messiah and reject him.  The rejected him first in Galilee, now in Jerusalem, and this rejection will ultimately lead to the Messiah’s death.  Those who rejected the invitation will now be destroyed (ending number one).  So now the Master will send his messengers into all of the “bad parts of town” inviting in the people who weren’t invited before.  Those people will flock to the feast and be welcomed.  Again, we understand the inclusive nature of the Kingdom of God that welcomes even the most unlovable of people (ending number two).  But if you come to the feast and choose to not dress correctly you will be thrown out.  Even though the invitation is for all, it doesn’t mean there are no standards.  Those who wish to be part of God’s Kingdom must clothe themselves in a way that is fitting of God’s presence or they will be cast out (ending number three).  Most churches/Christians tend to function on one end of the pendulum, being either too exclusive or too inclusive.  This parable explores that pendulum and encourages a more balanced approach that invites and welcomes all while holding people who accept the invitation to God’s standards.

As if cued, those who reject the invitation enter and begin trying to question and trap Jesus.  It’s tough to capture the ambiguity and cleverness of Jesus’ responses in our language and context, but I want to play with these a little bit.  So here is my best understanding of these riddles:

Q1: So Rome came in and conquered us, took our land, made us subservient to them, and now charges us taxes.  Some years back many faithful Jews led a rebellion against this and were crucified across the land.  How about you?  Do you think we should pay this tax to Caesar?

A1: I assume you have some of Caesar’s vile coinage with you…might I see one?  See here is Caesar’s face and the inscription, “Son of God.”  Why don’t you pay Caesar back in his own coin?  And pay God back in his own coin…

Jesus speaks only what is lawful under Roman rule, but the phrase feels revolutionary, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  Additionally, it’s implied that they aren’t giving to God what rightly belongs to God.  Powerful stuff.

Q2: What about a woman who lawfully marries seven men, one after the other, and then goes to the afterlife?  Is she married to all seven?  Clearly there can be no resurrection.

A2:  First of all, there is no need for a family name to be passed on any more since all will be one family.  Secondly, you don’t understand the resurrection.  The reason for marriage was always to be fruitful and multiply.  Without death, that need ends so people will no longer have sexual desires, or a need to be united to a single person in that way.  But clearly there IS a resurrection since God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob….not WAS the God…clearly they are still alive.

Check and mate.

Q3: Whats the greatest command?

A3:  Love the Lord your God.  Also, love your neighbor as yourself.  The rest of the law can easily fall under these two commands.

Then Jesus takes a turn and becomes the riddler:

Q4:  Whose son is the Messiah?  The son of David?  How then can the Psalm say that the Messiah is both the son of David and the Lord of David?

A4:  No response….total befuddlement.

The reason they can’t answer this riddle is because the answer is standing in front of them in the flesh.  Their entire goal was the bring questions to discredit Jesus as the Messiah and they failed.  With a single question of his own Jesus validates himself as the Messiah and leaves their jaws flapping in the wind.

 

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2013 in Matthew

 

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Matthew 12 – I work on Sundays

Lord of the Sabbath

Ryan tells a story about a time when he was visiting another church and had a pleasant conversation with a lady that went there.  They talked about how he is a minister and many other things and after awhile she said, “You should come back more often.”  Ryan smiled and replied, “I wish I could, but I work on Sundays.”  She sadly shook her head and said, “I hate that jobs require people to work on Sundays.”

Well the necessity of clergy working on the holy day of the week isn’t new.  In fact, in ancient Israel there were always some priests who had to work on the Sabbath.  When you work for God, working on holy days is part of the job description.

So when the Pharisees question Jesus for doing his work and healing on the Sabbath, Jesus points out, “This isn’t new.”  David was King and was able to work on the Sabbath.  The priests work on the Sabbath.  Jesus is now both king and priest of Israel.  Surely he is Lord of the Sabbath.  The implication here is important and shouldn’t be missed.  Jesus implies that he can do what King David did.  He also insinuates that he is doing the work of the priest.  As king he has the authority.  As priest he is doing the holy work of God.  Then, just for extra measure, he points out that even these lousy judgmental Pharisees are willing to show mercy and compassion to a stranded piece of livestock.  The implication here is, “Pharisees care more about livestock than people.  Jesus has better priorities.”

It’s a pretty poignant contrast.  Don’t miss how intense this scene is.  It feels to us like a fairly basic argument about the Sabbath, but it’s clearly more than that.  It’s about Jesus the king.  It’s about Jesus the priest.  It’s about Jesus the compassionate.  The Pharisees are shown to be ignorant jerks.  How serious is all of this?  Matthew tells us that it’s such an important confrontation that the Pharisees leave to go plan how to kill Jesus.  This is about more than the Sabbath.

Other Matters in Matthew 12

Jesus heals out of compassion but gets bothered when they ask for a sign.  He wants to show love and mercy to people, but Jesus doesn’t want God’s power to be turned into a circus side show.  That’s not what he is all about.

Jesus talks about how a person who has a demon cast out must fill the void with something good or else the evil spirit will come back with seven more like it.  This is a very important principle for people looking to get sin out of their life as well.  So often people try to quit some major sin or evil in their life, but they just cut it out and change nothing else.  Unfortunately, this often results in relapse.  Jesus’ advice here is to cut out the evil but start putting good stuff in it’s place.  Fill the void with a relationship with God.  Fill it with God’s Spirit.  Fill it by serving others.  Whatever it takes, take out the bad and put in the good.

Jesus says something about his family being those who follow him and obey him.  But that’s not necessarily disowning his actual mother and brothers.  Certainly there were some odd dynamics with his family (See John 7 and his brothers’ doubt and his sneakily going to the festival), but Jesus is still a good son.  We see this when one of his last thoughts on the cross was for the beloved disciple to take care of his mother.  We see this when later his brothers become leaders in the early church.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Matthew

 

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Acts 9 – Ananias and Saul

We often think of the Pharisees as being leaders with some kind of authority (at least I did for years). They were really just a popular group within society who held themselves to a certain level of beliefs and practices within Judaism. Saul, we will find out later, was/is a Pharisee. He had to receive permission to go and discipline this unruly group of Jews (that we know of as Christians).

Let’s think about Saul for minute. Here we have an up and coming Pharisee. He was apparently becoming quite the big deal amongst his peers. He was a really good Jew. Obviously passionate. Nationalistic. I would say he cared deeply for God’s Word. I’m currently working on a Masters in Divinity, primarily focusing on Theology, and it consumes most of my thoughts. If I’m on a long drive, I’m usually listening to a lecture or just thinking through different areas of Scripture (I’m revealing my nerdiness a bit). I imagine Saul; on his long journey down the Damascus road was doing much of the same. He has obviously heard of this Jesus movement and it seems to really be taking over his passion. While he is traveling down the road, I imagine him thinking through the prophesies of the coming Messiah and how Jesus did not fit the mold. He knows his stance on the subject and he’s well prepared to go and shut this movement down. Then everything changed…

Saul’s encounter with the risen Jesus changed everything. What he thought he knew about the prophets, he now has to rethink because of the risen Jesus. What he knew about God and His People, has now changed because of his encounter with the risen Savior. The people he has been persecuting because they were out of line are now to be viewed as Brothers and Sisters because of his encounter with the risen Lord. The blinded Saul now spends the next few days thinking through all of this.

I’m sure rumors were spreading all over Damascus that Saul was on his way. Hearing what has gone on in other areas I’m sure that a lot of these Jesus followers left town. For whatever reason, Ananias stayed home and gets his name in the history books. God gives him the task of receiving Saul and restoring his sight. This has to be humbling for both Ananias and Saul. Ananias has the power (to some extent) to let Saul remain blind as punishment for all that he has done to The Way. Saul has to place himself within the care of one of the people he came to throw in jail. We never hear of Ananias again but he is an example to us, that we are called to love the worst of sinners whom God has called to be our Brother.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Luke 20 – A Game of Riddles

Can you imagine living in a country where people were constantly arguing about how to interpret founding documents, laws and the spirit of the law?  You would have leaders who told you how to behave or not behave based on their strict or loose interpretation of the law.  People would always be arguing and trying to win people to their side so they could be more powerful.  And yet, nothing ever seemed to get done?  Sound familiar?  Well it was that way during Jesus’ lifetime too.  The religious and legal authorities constantly bickered and “played the game” to make themselves look good and others look foolish.  In this chapter, Jesus is brought into the game.

The Authority of Jesus Questioned

After cleansing the Temple, the religious leaders want to know by whose authority Jesus is teaching and acting.  He knows that it’s all part of the game and that they are trying to walk him into a trap.  So instead, Jesus responds with a riddle of his own, asking them about John the Baptist.  They know that this too is a riddle and a trap and refuse to answer.  And Jesus simply responds, if you don’t play the game then I’m not going to play the game.

Parable of the Talents

Jesus then takes this opportunity to blast these religious leaders for playing these games and for what they are about to do with God’s son.  Anytime in Luke’s Gospel that a parable is about a master/ruler and tenants/servant then think God and Israel.  In this case, Jesus points out that the leaders of Israel that God intended to care for his people have instead killed his messengers, the prophets and now they want to kill his son.  The text indicates that he wanted everybody to know exactly who he meant as he stared directly at them as the story reached its climatic moment.  The accusation that they were responsible for killing the prophets and would soon kill him made them so mad that they immediately wanted to arrest him.

More Traps and Riddles

So as the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law leave Jesus after this confrontation, they stand at a distance and send spies in to try to continue their game of riddles and traps.  This time they are trying to stay far enough away to be out of range for Jesus’ comments.  They try to trap Jesus with a question about taxes, but Jesus knocks it out of the park and renders his questioners silent in awe.

Then the Sadducees decide they will take a turn at the game and step up with a question about marriage in the resurrection (which they didn’t believe in).  Jesus essentially replies with a two part response.  First, our bodies will be different in the resurrection, mostly in that there will no longer be any death.  Without death, the need to carry on one’s family line disappears and we will become “like the angels” in that we will no longer need sexual relations.  Relationships will still exist, but they will be different than we currently experience.  Secondly, Jesus uses an argument from Exodus that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which indicates that they are living in the resurrection life and that this proves that there is a resurrection.

Jesus then turns on them with a question of his own about David’s son being the Messiah which they can’t answer, but we know points to Jesus.  Finally, the chapter ends with Jesus blasting the teachers of the law.  It’s almost as if to say, “I’ll play your dirty little game.  In fact, I will beat you at it to show you I can.  But then I will condemn you in front of everybody for oppressing so many with your petty arguments and excessive regulations.”  Jesus better be careful.  To many more comments like that against people in power can get a guy…killed.

So the question is, do we still do this today?  Are there times that we let the religious battles and desire to be “more right” than the other Christians over there get in the way of serving God and others the way we are supposed to?

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Luke

 

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