Saturday, December 17, 2011

New Year: 1 Cor 1-5 for Dec 1

These chapters immediately show that Paul's thinking is not limited to the subjects of the treatise-like letter to the Romans. It's not just that Paul addresses very understandable practical problems, almost right off (1:10ff) in 1 Corinthians. The theology of Paul is significantly increased by 1 Corinthians. Reading in canonical order helps see that!

For example, the whole theme of nullifying (1:28), and its relationship to God's calling of the "things that are not...." Could we have guessed this from Romans? The closest parallel might be the idea that all the world is accountable to God, in Romans 3, or even better, the verse that formed the idea for the title of my blog, Romans 3:27. Boasting is excluded. Boasting is nullified. But nullification directed toward not an attitude but an "existent" thing (1:28) and its relationship to what the makeup of the called Christian body is? That's new.

Some things are wonderful elaborations of the thoughts that also occur in Romans. At the end of 1 Cor 3, there is a great elaboration of Romans 8's "will he not with Him freely give us all things?" in Paul's very memorable "all things are yours...."

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Year: Rm 14-16 for Nov 30

Romans is very unusually broad in its ethical section compared to the many letters (e.g. to the Corinthians and Thessalonians) in which Paul addresses specific problems. Here (15:14) much less so.

This has seldom been taken into account, so that the overarching nature of his approach to the Christian life in chapters 12ff. has been minimized. The things that Paul emphasizes ethically in these chapters should be considered as foundational to the Christian life as his doctrine in chapters 1-11.

For example, just as the first imperative in the doctrinal section to the Romans was for them to consider themselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (6:11), being alive to God is his first principle behind ethics in 12:1. 6:13 moves to 12:1, as though the whole middle of the letter was needed to support the subject!

Having related the "vertical" aspects of our Christian life (13:14) to the "horizontal" (13:10-13), Paul continues in chapter 14 with the horizontal, which amounts to the building up of one another (14:19). In yet another defiance of Hume's rule that we cannot derive "ought" from "is," Paul says "for even Christ did not please Himself ..." (15:3), and to "accept one another" (15:7), because Christ became a servant of Jew and Gentile (15:8-9). Having recently gone through Acts, we can see how clearly God answered Paul's prayers of 15:31, and his proleptic statement of 16:26. "To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Year: Rm 10-13 for Nov 29

"Those who were chosen obtained it," Paul says about what Israel was seeking, but "the rest were hardened...." (11:7). In Romans 9 (cf. 9:18) God's prerogative to show mercy on whomever He wants to is defended. In chapters 10-11, however, and even in 9:30-33, Paul brings up what is there for human beings to deal with, near-at-hand, to speak about: he talks about how "the righteousness out of faith speaks as follows ..." (10:6). What follows is not only THAT God has provided His righteousness for "everyone who believes" (10:3-4), but how "'the Word is near you ...'" (10:8).

There is a danger that we might miss the forest for the trees in what Paul is saying in Romans 10. The quotations and illustrations of 10:6-8 are not to be illustrations of the means of salvation, i.e., confessing this one fact, believing this one fact, but they are illustrations and quotations about Christ, for showing that Christ's resurrection and exalted position go together with our salvation and righteousness, and are in fact as present as what the mouth already says and the heart already believes, which came from the word of faith that Paul preaches (10:8).

In 10;6, the attitude that there are only a few accomplished souls, maybe somewhere, who can do the job of going to heaven to bring Christ down to our level so He would benefit us ... Paul says "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART" that kind of thing! Paul says, do not say in our hearts, that the distance between ourselves and Christ must be covered by us going up to Him. in 10:7 it's the opposite: Paul says, do not say in our hearts, Christ's death puts the distance to Him downward, i.e., that we must "bring Christ up." The twin thoughts are ridiculed, as well as the thought of living by "the righteousness which is out of law" (10:5).

There is culpability when the good news has been preached, and "they did not all heed the good news" (10:16). After establishing that culpability, and God's mercy in spite of it which comes in the future, Paul goes on to the practical implications of God's mercy in chapter 12. Thus chapter 12 is not so much a response to the whole letter so far, althought it is that, as well, but mainly a response to the mercy that has just been proven as late as 11:32.

Romans 11;32 goes on to 12:1, but Paul gives God glory first. And then, Christian ethics: what to do in a general way, general guidelines for the Christians in Rome, in light of who they are. We can ask many ethicists, "how do you go from an 'is' (i.e., the truths of Romans 1-11) to an 'ought' (i.e., "you must do x,y,z")," and many ethicists say you can't go, directly. For example, Paul says "by the mercies of God', present your bodies ...." in 12:1. Is the mercy of God something that implies obligations on our part? Many ethicists say that's impossible, that obligations can only be derived from other obligations, as elaborations or implications of already-accepted obligations.

In point of fact, Paul does not say that "present your bodies ..." is an implication of God's mercies. He urges the Romans, as brethren, and by God's mercies. That phraseology itself is but one of the differences between serving in the oldness of the letter, and in the newness of the Spirit (7:6). We should be able to see the differences from here to as the letter concludes.

One shock, that is not often pointed out, between Christianity and other religions / ethical systems is this very fact ... Paul's letter is concluding! Those who were reading chapters 1-11 of Romans, just so they could "get to the good part," that which we should be doing, have a short class. The very fact that Romans 12ff are the length that they are puts Christianity in a class of religions all by itself.

Not as if people have not tried to 'remedy' this. Alas, they've been too successful, in that Christianity is conceived of as an ethic first, and beliefs second. For Paul, Romans shows what he thought of as standing first, before our ethics can even be shaped: things about the Christian as a result of Christ's death and resurrection! What is left is pointedly NOT an ethics manual: it has too few few words for that: mostly about humility, in chapter 12, and a few words, about living under an earthly ruler, the governing rule of love, and about the urgency of behaving properly. The distinctive thing in Christianity is repeated for emphasis in 15:13, and then goes on to his closings.

The brevity of the ethical section is not an argument "from" silence, but an argument from brevity. Paul is writing to those "who are led by the Spirit of God" (8:14). It is a mark of the presence of that belief that Paul's ethics, neither here no in any other writing, assume the number one focus of His religion. His religion, i.e., his service to God, is in his spirit, in the gospel of His Son (1:9).

New Year: Rm 7-9 for Nov 28

The "newness of the Spirit" (7:6) is explained further by Paul, as he explains further the Christian life in Rm 7-8. Also in the reading for today is the beginning of his defense of the fact that Israel as a nation did not "arrive at" (9:31) the "righteousness which is by faith" (9:30), this righteousness he has been explaining since 3:21.

All three of today's chapters contribute to understanding of the Law. The Law has a "just requirement" (8:4), that is, requirement that there be justice. Either the Mosaic Law itself, in the case of Israel (3:19), or the "work of the Law written in their hearts" (2:15), in the case of the Gentiles, brings the obligation to do right upon the whole human race, and Paul personifies the failure of all the sinful human race in Rm 7. There is only one exception to the rule that all the human race is sinful, and that is God's Son. Christ's work has consequences that change things for the world's problem of sin, as we've seen in 1:16 to 3:31. Christ's work also has consequences that change things about us "who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead," (4:24) , as we've seen from Romans 5-6, and see more in Romans 7 and 8. The gospel (good news) is "of God" (1:1) and of God's Son (1:9)..

Among the consequences for those who are "children of God" (8:16) is a change in the manner of serving God (7:6). A change, from what, to what? Before, as well as now for Paul, the Law is good (7:16), but in the presence of sin (7:8), the product of the combination of the Law and sin is that Paul, personifying all human beings, says, "I died." (7:9). The Law, "effecting my death through that which is good" (7:13), had this effect.

The change is from a state that Paul calls "while we were in the flesh" (7:5), to "not in the flesh but in the Spirit," (8:9). This is a change of being, from being those who "are according to the flesh" (8:5a) to "those whare are according to the Spirit" (8:5b). How is this all related to Christ?

Paul gives credit to a divine act upon the "brethren" for this change, and it is related to the death of Christ! Having opened that subject up in Romans 6:2ff, he continues examining more of this event! "My brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God" (7:4).

Exclamation point! This is the passive voice, "you also were made to die" (7:4), indicating God's work! God made us to die to the Law through the body of Christ. Exclamation point! Even though Paul defends that kind of thing (Rm 9ff), judging from the glory of that kind of thing, expressed all through Rm 3-8 (really: ...) God needs no defense for such a glorious combination of acts! "Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (7:24-5).

Paul explains this new freedom in terms that outstrip the glories of everything in our present creation: "the whole creation groans" (8:22). The existence of the whole present creation is characterized as "slavery to corruption" and compared to its future freedom, which it will share. What freedom? Shared with whom? "The freedom of the glory of the children of God" (8:21)!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Year: Rm 3-6 for Nov 27

Having finished describing the state of the whole human world including those under the Law (2:17ff, 3:9-20), Paul begins describing what God has done about it in Romans 3:21 - 6:23, and beyond.

Paul not only has the most closely and clearly reasoned extended arguments in the Bible so far all year (cf. 4:3-22, 5:12-21), but assumes a familiarity with the actual text of the Old Testament -- not just a familiarity with it, but the ability to come to conclusions from it. Whoever is leary of coming to conclusions will not be able to understand Paul, because he wants us to be able to come to conclusions, very important ones, by the way, not only about the Old Testament (3:19-20), but about God (4:6, 5:1, Christ (6:3-11), and ourselves (6:2): what He has done (6:17-18) so that what we were is not what we are (6:20-22), and this described in many detailed and definitive ways (6:5). God has done a redemptive act (3:24) in public display of dealing with sin, a propitiation in the blood of Christ (3:25). Faith in Christ is credited as righteousness, (4:5), as free gift of God (6:23), and this grace through righteousness will reign to eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (5:21).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Year: Acts 28 - Rm 2 for Nov 26

Even though this day's reading straddles two books, it is appropriate for the consecutive reader almost more than any two books of the New Testament in canonical order. Paul in Rome, Acts 28. Paul speaking to them, Romans 1ff.

When Paul has not even yet arrived in Rome, there are Christians there with whom he stays, while still on the outskirts. Hearing that Paul is "unhindered" is the last word of Luke in the book of Acts, and Romans 1 appropriately says that Paul had been "prevented thus far" (1:13). So we see that the letter to the Romans predates Acts 28.

In another way, Romans supplies "the other side," the theological-treatise side, to the narrative of Acts, in which Luke, describing the providentially guided acts of the apostles and others in the church, spent less time describing their doctrine. That is remedied in Romans. Moo's [1996] commentary on Romans correctly identifies Romans as a theological treatise with opening and closing remarks. We'll comment further on Moo's commentary in the comments, something that we have dropped since early 2010.

What is remarkable in Romans 1 are the crowning statements in 1:16-17. These statements are as above the day-to-day descriptions of the activities of religious people trying to encourage one another, as the acts of God are above the acts of men. Indeed, that is the gospel's chief advantage, that it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. It's something greater than human teaching or human activity.

In a remarkably even-handed way, addressing the human condition from the points of view of "men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" -- whether Gentile or Jew (2:14,17), Paul lays out the problem which salvation rescues the human being from, in the way it does, by the bringing in of the gospel.

New Year: Acts 25-27 for Nov 25

From its beginnings in Acts 21:31 until the end of Acts, the Roman presence around Paul functions in God's purposes for his protection, both where Paul has control (21:40; 25:11; 26:2) and where he doesn't (23:30-31; 24:27; 25:21).

As the station increases in rank, from the soldiers and centurions (21:32) to King Agrippa (25:13), each higher authority is both equally fair and more knowledgeable than the previous. King Agrippa was not further identified to the readers, being the current king at the time of writing (A.D. 44-100, NBD). He is the son (Herod Agrippa II) of the earlier Herod (Herod Agrippa I) who executed James the apostle brother of John the apostle (12:2).

Paul's third recitation of his conversion story is the most polished, including his mission to the Gentiles. Before Agrippa, who is not a Jewish separatist but sided with Rome and was rewarded subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem for his loyalty to Rome, Paul's elucidation of his mission to the Gentiles is just fine. In fact, to Agrippa II Paul is a great scholar, so much so that they have a tete-a-tete moment of mutual recognition (26:24-28). By the time the reader hears the verdict on Paul, we are so used to the providence of God guiding Paul forward, that we say "bring it on!"

New Year: Acts 21-24 for Nov 24

In view of the spate of interest in the Roman Empire, Acts 21-24 reads like a plot for another great drama. There is plenty of drama (22:23), conflict (21:11,21-22), violence (21:31-36), flight (22:18), religious fanaticism (23:12-15), and the providential handling of these things (23:16). There's even government bureaucratic delay (24:25).

As far as speeches go, that of Paul to his accusers in Jerusalem is of a pattern with Stephen's in Acts 7. People will listen to lots of detailed facts, but if they include some sort of mirror of accusation back on the listeners (7:53), or the putting of the listeners in a relatively unfavorable light (22:21), the listening stops and the opposition often ensues.

Again the pax Romana is in evidence here (21:32), although it is not always "right-on" (21:38). In these chapters, Paul's rescue from Jerusalem's religious leaders is enabled through Paul's nephew (23:16), but it is actually brokered through a Roman centurion and a Roman commander, "Claudius Lysias" (23:26). We sense some fairness, along with an incredulity, in the secular arm (23:29).

In the case of the secular governor, Felix, his response to Paul is like a man who can point each eye separately. One eye views Christianity more exactly (24:22). But with the other eye, he summons Paul to preach to him, but hopes Paul will give him money (24:26)! Politics trumping knowledge ensues, and Felix passes from the scene.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Year: Acts 19-20 for Nov 23

Pauls ministry in Ephesus is highlighted in Acts 19-20.

The snippets of Paul's teaching that Luke reports make it instantly recognizable that it is the same man who wrote the New Testament letters we have (20:24,28,32). And the combination of these things with Luke's patterns of showing the success of the ministry among acts and patterns of opposition show it to be part of Luke's pattern of depiction (19:8,9,29; 20:3).

Luke also brings forward resolutions of conflict that make us say "that worked?" The speech of the town clerk (19:35ff) actually worked? Yes. It was not the current situation today. We aren't under a pax Romana as Paul was then.

Another interesting sidelight of the story of the "no small disturbance" at Ephesus (19:23) is what was said -- by a neutral party, not the Christians -- about the handling of idolatrousness. The neutral party said, regarding Paul and his companions, that Paul and his companions "are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess" (19:37).

This selectivity on the missionaries' part is reminiscent of the depiction of Paul before the other idolatrous group in Athens (17:22ff). Therefore the town clerk's summary rings true. Talking about "the God who made the world and all things in it" (17:24) has implications for idolatry, and the profits from idolatry, no doubt, but that is not the focus of the missionary message.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

New Year: Acts 17-18 for Nov 22

The preaching of Paul in various places -- it sounds slightly different in its approach, in various places in Acts 17-18.

Among synagogue attenders, both Jews and "the God-fearing" (17:4,17), Paul "reasoned with them from the Scriptures" (17:2). Among the Athenians at the Areopagus (17:22) Paul quoted "some of your own poets" (17:28). What was the common denominator? Jesus -- proving that He "is the Christ" (17:3) to the Jews in Thessalonica, and bringing up this same "man whom He [God] has appointed...." to the Athenians (17:31). The Anointed One, and whom God has appointed, of course, are the same. The Jews, already knowing the exaltation of the Messiah from the Old Testament scriptures such as Ps 2, would already know that at some point the Messiah will break and shatter the nations (Ps 2:9). The Greeks, in Athens, from philosophy, would know about the breaking and shattering of all nations of history (17:26), but wouldn't know about the one God has appointed judge of all human beings.

The Jews of the time knew about a Person coming, but didn't know He came. The Greeks of the time knew about the process of nations coming and going, but didn't know about the judgment of the individual person, and about Person through whom God would judge all, and the recent public proof God has provided of that (17:31).

New Year: Acts 14-16 for Nov 21

How remarkably free from individuals "rising" to power is the expansion of the gospel in these chapters, Acts 14-16.

However, opposition is not all external. The external opposition is very brutal (14:19; 16:23-24). The internal opposition, focusing on the issue of circumcision and the Law in its entirety (15:1,5,21), is dealt with by a large group of leaders but more than just leaders (15:22).

We might miss how, in these days of daily communication about religion, how such a group of dispersed people, hundreds of miles away in modern Turkey, or over a thousand miles from Jerusalem in Greece, could grow. To "see how they are" in Acts 15:36 seems quite an understatement. This is also very true about remote places today into which Christians have gone, people have believed the word of God, and the messengers who brought the word have left. What is a new Christian left with?

God, and God's grace of course. He tends His own. This emphasis on the "grace side of things" came out earlier (cf. 15:11,40). It comes from the fact that "God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance to life." (11:18). If God has granted the turning of someone to life, the church's first order of responsibility is "do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles," as James summarized (15:19). When the original messengers went through where they had been before, what was their activity? They "strengthened the churches" (15:41). That sounds very positive, for being hundreds of miles and mountains and ships away from the origin of the religion.

Can God, His leading in grace, be specific enough for a new Christian? Is 16:6-10 specific enough, as an example, for the missionaries themselves? It is interesting that this specific example of God's guidance comes right after two incidents that seem very awkward in the missionary journey. The first is the "sharp disagreement" in 15:39. The second is the circumcision of Timothy in 16:3. The missionaries themselves were taking "the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them [the Christians located in those remote cities] to observe" (16:4). Among these decrees were the words about circumcision not being necessary. The circumcision was done "because of the Jews who were in those parts," (16:3), not for the sake of the Christian life. And Barnabas and Mark worked in a separate arena (15:39). Neither activity was man-led. On the issue of circumcision, the issue was described as resolved when "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (15:28). On the issue of where to go, God leads that too, as He made plain in 16:6-10. Paul speaks from experience, as well as revelation, when in Romans he says "all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rm 8:14).

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

New Year: Acts 11-13 for Nov 20

In those days in which Peter preached to Cornelius, the receiving of the Holy Spirit by Gentiles (10:47) was not widely known back in Jerusalem until Acts 11:1. This section of Acts begins the specific story of how the Christian message goes out to those who are not already in Peter's religion.

This was not Paul's doing. Peter gets a vision from God about it, which he explains to those who are initially against it (11:3). They change their mind, and ended up glorifying God for this (11:18).

Even in Antioch, where Paul was going to be pivotal, in which "speaking to the Greeks, they preached the Lord Jesus" occured, it wasn't started by Paul. Here there is no miraculous sign given of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Barnabas was sent by the apostles to see the nature of the movement. When he arrived, he "saw the grace of God" (11:23), and by himself, without Paul's verification, he was convinced of their beginnings, and told them to remain true to the Lord. Only then, he went to get Paul (11:25ff).

Saturday, December 03, 2011

New Year: Acts 9-10 for Nov 19

Acts 9-10 are why so many people associate the beginning of the church with both Peter and Paul. The outstanding descriptions of their activities in these chapters gain our attention, but do we notice the providential guidance that is underneath (9:16; 10:19-20)?

So Peter and Paul would both beg to differ on being its beginners, and would ask us to look above them. Luke has a way of doing this, without denigrating their part. For example, lest we're too enamored with one mechanism or topic sequence (2:38), He provides another (10:44-48). It's human nature to ask questions such as "what's first? what's second? what do I have to do next?", but when God is doing the very same thing (10:47) during events which occur a different order, Peter has to backtrack (10:47).

Another example occurs in the variety of the various "conversion" stories. Here was that of Cornelius and his household, which defies us to list the things that were told to them before they were converted (10:44). But that's only one conversion story. Take Paul's: the only doctrine of preparation for conversion we can get from Acts 9:1-3 is what Paul's preceding state before his conversion was, and as far as we can tell, he was travelling on his way to Damascus. As far as I know, there has been no theory of preparing for conversion, among many, many, many, that has stipulated that one needs to be on the way to Damascus.

Friday, December 02, 2011

New Year: Acts 7-8 for Nov 18

Let's not let "Oh, I know this story" prevent us from reading about the martyrdom of Stephen as if for the first time, in Acts 7.

Much has been made of Stephen's knowledge of the Old Testament. If he was a Hellenistic Jew he certainly carries the torch well for knowledge of the Old Testament outside the borders of Israel, just as Paul later does. Paul, who was present at this speech, but was as yet unconverted, possibly was hearing something said, by a person who used his language, yet refuted his views all the more.

Just as important is the reflection of the chapter on us. Stephen's speech shows that reciting the history of the nation need not be an hagiograph of the nation. How often have you heard a story of the Israelite wandering in the wilderness that uses the facts Stephen found in Amos 5? (Acts 7:42-43)? Today, the chief use being made of the wanderings in the wilderness, is to exhort us to not follow their example of unbelief. And well we shouldn't. But when have you heard a sermon about the idol factories in the wilderness, and not to follow those!

In his dying words, Stephen's example shows another rarity. It is perfectly compatible to be very much a critic of someone, yet forgive them from your heart and seek at all costs, their forgiveness (7:60).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Year: Acts 4-6 for Nov 17

What Peter the apostle had said at the end of Acts 3 to "the sons of the prophets and of the covenant" (3:25) provided the way forward for the nation to take. Though many did (5:14; 6:1,7), the existing leadership of the nation was against the teaching of the apostles. Was the scene going to be merely a power-struggle between followers of one teaching versus another, the entrenched versus the new?

Another way of asking this question, for the Christian, is this: "is it God, that exists, or merely competing religious explanations?" Does He do things, or is He a theoretical markup of events? If so, then are the events capable of being marked up another way?

Certainly in Acts 4-6 He does things, and the events in these chapters don't lend themselves well to multiple paradigms that ignore Jesus Christ. The resurrection-based (4:10) facts keep multiplying. Peter tells the entrenched rulers, and the whole nation, that the "man has been made well" (4:9) by "the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead" (4:10).

Not only that, but Jesus does not stand merely as the name (power and authority) behind a miracle, but a name behind salvation, indeed, the only one (4:12). If there is no salvation in anyone else but Christ, then "we" -- Peter and his listeners too -- must resort to Him for their salvation as well.

As if it were not mismatched enough a contest, obedience to God versus obedience to the conflicting orders of man on the other (4:19), the contestants do not comprise just the apostles versus those who are threatening them (4:29). There is the groundswell (4:31), among which there emerges (6:3, 5) Stephen, a non-apostle but "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (6:5), whose very face the Council saw "like the face of an angel" (6:15). It was not just the apostles against the Council. Gamaliel was right, in Acts 5:39. The Council was finding themselves to be fighting against God.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New Year: Acts 1-3 for Nov 16

If Jesus's coming was according to the four gospels, a legitimate question someone would have is "if all that was as it was described, what next?" Part of the answer is here in Acts 1-3. Luke gives us a hint here at the beginning: the gospels are only what "Jesus began to do and teach" (Acts 1:1).

As Luke continues his narrative from his gospel to here, Luke 24:49 and Acts 2:2-4 have a natural connection. How does Acts 1 fit in?

The Expositors Bible Commentary calls the comparison of Acts 1:15-19 and Matthew 27 the most difficult in the New Testament. It does not seem to be. Judas had acquired money (Jn 12:6) and died on his own property, the "Field of Blood" (Acts 1:19). Before he died, the "chief priests and elders" (Mt 27:3) got their coins back from him, with which they bought the "Potter's Field" (Mt 27:7). Luke reports the manner of Judas' death, explaining what happened by integrating what Matthew (27:5) had said (as Acts 1:18, "falling headlong") with what followed after that (1:18b), which gave that property its name.

"Pentecost" refers to fifty days in Greek. It is a period of about seven weeks, forty days of which (1:3) Jesus presented Himself alive many times, and spoke of the kingdom of God. Paul refers to these days and those who witnessed them in 1 Cor 15, about 30 years later, and cites that most are still are alive from those forty days in which they saw Him (1 Cor 15:6). After His ascension, then, what would ensue? The comment of the angels to the disciples (1:11) doesn't say anything about that, although it says great things!

There is the scenario of sameness, 1:14, 26, and a contrasting scenario of what is pointedly and miraculously not the same, 2:1 - 3:26. It can by symbolized by Peter drawing straws regarding one person, versus after the day of Pentecost, Peter speaking to thousands of the whole nation, explaining to them everything that happened, their role, their culpability mixed with ignorance, and what to do next! To this very people and leadership that had their part to put Jesus to death (3:15), though acting "in ignorance" (3:17!), Peter speaks directly of that which was for their forgiveness (2:38), including what they should know (2:36), and what they should do and what will be done to them (2:38) -- and how that will effect the whole course of history (3:20-21)!

What they were to know amounted to the kind of thing that the Lord had emphasized all along in His earthly ministry, that there was a "predetermined plan" and "foreknowledge of God" (2:23), and that God had done things (2:32) according to it (2:33). How things changed for Peter and the disciples from the times of Luke 18:34! Peter explains things very clearly now, and it was not that it was a secret plan (3:18), in any case! In Acts 3:17-26 Peter explains the significance of not only that time, which he calls "these days" (3:26), but that there will be certain days to come: the "times of refreshing" (3:19), and the "period of restoration of all things " (3:21).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Year: John 19-21 for Nov 15

John's gospel presents the death and resurrection of Jesus in these three chapters, John 19-21. John is the master of understatement. He takes it from the understatement inherent in reporting these Resurrection appearances and not more. John can do this -- be selective, and write as if on a plain matter of history, because of the fact that the New Creation is built on the fact of the Resurrection, not just the two chapter report of it.

Three "Mary's" were at His crucifixion (Jn 19:25), and one of them, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb on Sunday (Jn 20:1). She was the first to be talked to by Jesus. who has risen, but she does not do anything but suppose him to be the gardener at first (20:15). This is NOT good science fiction. No glowing luminosity here. No outward sign. The opposite of what you might expect.

On the other hand, previous to this, Peter and "the other disciple" come to the tomb on the basis of the first report of Mary Magdalene that something was amiss (20:2) and as a result of seeing the grave-clothes, the disciple that came with Peter "saw and believed" (20:8). John comments on the fact that this late date of belief is due to the fact that "they" -- presumably not just that one disciple, but all of them -- "they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead" (20:9). This too is the opposite of what you might expect.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Year: John 16-18 for Nov 14

By John 18 the hour that Jesus had said would come finally does come (17:1), and chapters 16-18 all show how these events take a second seat to the people.

All of them, from the highest officials such as the high priest and the governor, to slaves (18:10) and door-keepers (18:16-17), act as they choose to, yet according to providence, and the events are all providentially governed by God.

For example, the disciples whom He prays for regarding the their protection and priveleges throughout John 14-17, are freed from being arrested with Jesus (cf. 12:10) by prophecy and a single word by Jesus (18:8-9). Peter, whose behavior in the garden could easily get him arrested too (18:10), evidently at that point didn't want to be freed to go his way (18:8, 10), yet his own denials, predicted just earlier (13:38), serve the goals of 18:8-9.

Human nature in its evil is depicted very directly. Annas tries to assert himself by getting Jesus to give an account of disciples and teaching (18:19)! Annas wasn't looking for information, which Jesus points out he could get from others (18:21). Perhaps the assertion of his authority?

In the case of the "officers of the Jews" (18:12), they say they want Pilate to execute Jesus. Why? It may be just because they want to control the fate of whoever is an "evildoer" (18:30).

We readers are left shaking our heads that they want to kill the Innocent Man, yet they don't want to be ceremonially unclean for the passover (18:28). Therefore their own religious scruples hinder their plans for evil.

But Pilate doesn't miss his chance to show his colors. Pilate mocks them by toying with them, twice, mocking their religion-based antagonism (18:29-31a), then saying he "finds" no guilt (18:38). That's the official language of innocence, but Pilate's scheming comes forth: in calling Jesus "King of the Jews" (18:39), derisively, not intending to release him at that point, and having just heard from Jesus Himself that His kingdom is not of this world (18:36), Pilate puts his admitted scoffing at "truth" (19:38) at the service of what he knows: power politics.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Year: John 13-15 for Nov 13

In the ministry of Jesus among His disciples in John 13-15, He does not disparage them (13:10) or exalt them either (13:38).

Why, after Judas left, does the command to love one another receive such prominent emphasis? What is the "new" in the "new commandment" there (13:34)? The "even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" is a possibility -- the quality of the love -- but also, its extent (13:1).

The related subject of the disciples' love for Jesus is not brought out as a reciprocation of His love for them. It is specifically founded upon other foundations: their knowing God, even that they "have seen Him" -- in Jesus (14:8-10). Then, He exhorts them to believe Him about some things, and encourages them that they will be answered in their prayers no matter what (14:13-14). With that amazing foundation, Jesus then brings up their love for Him, and the consequence: keeping His commandments.

Comparing 14:15, "if you love Me, you will keep My commandments," and 14:23-24, "'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; ... He who does not love Me does not keep My words," we notice that Jesus infers FROM love TO the keeping of His words and commandments, and FROM lack of love TO not keeping His commandments. What about FROM keeping the commandments, TO love? Not here (cf. 12:47).

What the Lord does infer FROM keeping His commandments is abiding in His love (15:10).

What then of 14:21, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me"? These two things are given -- having His commandments, and keeping them -- as being of the essence for loving Him. They show that to love Christ is not a one-time act, but it is always identified with the keeping of His commandments, plural, all of them. Thus it is always an ongoing and repeatedly measurable state. This is often thought of as only a means of determining that someone does not love Christ, as if the rule cannot apply to anyone's future if they have broken it in the past. What then, is true, of someone who has not kept His commandments? The statement also applies to their future, and they should take heart from it -- such a person, who has Christ's commandments and keeps them, is also "the one who loves Me." The statement of Christ remains true.

Is this, then, the means? Is keeping the commandments the means of loving Christ? No. It is the repeatable measure of loving Christ. The measure of something is not the means of acquiring it. "We love, because He first loved us," Scripture says elsewhere (1 Jn 4:19).

New Year: John 11-12 for Nov 12

In John 11-12 is the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the reaction to it, followed by the summary of the whole public ministry of Jesus (12:36b-50).

The "why" of these events is also explained. Some people believed but didn't confess it -- i.e. they were secret about it -- John explains why (12:42-43). Some people didn't believe even though they saw many signs -- John explains why (12:37-39a).

The chief priests and the Pharisees held a council after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead -- John explains why (11:48). During this time, Jesus would go out "to the country near the wilderness" -- John explains why (11:54). The fact that Jesus has come to this point -- He Himself tells the Father why, and John records it (12:27).

The Lord's own summary of His whole significance to this point in His life, in His own words, is recorded by John, and is meant for us to know. I think we should know these words by heart (12:44-50).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Year: John 9-10 for Nov 11

Though the identity of Christ is a theme throughout John's gospel, the eternal consequences of the opponents not knowing it came out very pointedly in the previous chapter (8:21,24).

John's gospel has a close-up look at many of the ideas of Christ's opponents. In John 9-10, Christ's identity is again the subject of those who revile Jesus, which they want to bring up (9:16,29).

There is a one-question verse, John 9:35, that is surprising in its brevity and succinctness. It is a non-confrontational conversation of Jesus, in the middle of chapters of confrontational conversations Jesus is having with representatives of the entrenched religion. In this one-question verse John documents what Jesus Himself may well be thought to put as the first question for all those He saves, perhaps even the premier question: "do you believe in the Son of Man?"

It is certainly true that John 10:42 uses this phrase without explanation. We readers have been accumulating knowledge about this idea since 1:12! The reader therefore, by the time of 10:42, has been given that content which informs the meaning of it. All John has to say in 10:42 is "many believed in Him there." And we readers know by then, what that means.

How? One of the best ways to see that is in fact 9:35-39. Look at the progression: Jesus heals the blind man (9:7). The formerly blind man identifies Jesus first as "the man who is called Jesus" (9:11). In 9:17, the man says "He is a prophet" -- to antagonistic listeners (9:18), as the man's parents well knew (9:22). Then, being summoned a second time for questioning, the man says "whether He is a sinner, I do not know" (9:25). But he turns the tables on the questioners, telling them they weren't listening to him (9:27). So he teaches the questioners what he believes about Jesus, that Jesus is from God (9:33). They recognize that they have just been taught (9:34).

And so the Lord Jesus, in 9:35, throws a theological question at the blind man, who definitely sees, but doesn't know he sees, theologically, and whom he sees. Jesus asks him, "do you believe in the Son of Man?"

The man obviously doesn't know the reference, "Son of Man," and very clearly wants to just get the reference, because he is definitely going to believe in the Son of Man when Jesus identifies who that is.

How Jesus does so (9:37) is very endearing. This circumlocution about Himself SHOUTS at us about how the Lord identifies Himself similarly in the Old Testament as well, to those He grants knowledge of Himself to. Remember Jacob (Gen 32:29)? Moses (Ex 3:4,13-15; Ex 33:21-23)? Gideon (Judges 6:17-21)? Isaiah (6:1-7)?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Year: John 7-8 for Nov 10

The theme of response to opposition is heavy in John 7-8, along with what goes on despite it.

In a passage from yesterday (5:18) the opposition to Jesus was described in the same extreme as in our chapters, and indeed the discussion is similar (5:30-47) in some places (cf. 8:14).

When, in matters of religion, a discussion focuses on what authority there is for an assertion (8:13), the discussion is usually one of opposing views. It's similar to any two opponents discussing things on the merit of each view, and getting nowhere, and one of the participants saying "who thinks like you think?" Indeed, this is a form of "argumentum ad populum," trying to say that a view has this X amount of outside support. Indeed, the discussions of Jesus in the temple show forth many examples of the type of fallacies that arguments are subject to.

For example, the famous fallacy of judging an opinion by the origin of the one who holds it: 7:52. Another one is judging an opinion by the status of the one(s) speaking, either socially or educationally (7:15; 7:49).

What was the lack of faith among his brothers or family, in 7:1-9? It says that "not even His [Christ's] brothers were believing in Him" (7:5), but they hadn't said anything that seemed negative, on the face of it (7:3-4). It's all in the "if," of verse 4, I think. Maybe He was doing these things, maybe He wasn't? Did they doubt that He did them? The brothers' words were a possible contrast to Peter's in 6:68-69. The brothers wanted more actions in central places like Judea (7:3), but the disciples inferred from the actions to the character of the person, and Peter summed it up "We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God." The brothers were not believing in Him, but wanted Him to do more, "if" He really was doing those things. So the "if" can conceal a syllogism something like "sure, you've done these things in a small region of the world, but we suspend judgment on their significance ... perhaps this small corner of the world is unable to figure out something fishy about these things, so go do them where they big boys can see." A possibility for unbelieving brothers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

New Year: John 5-6 for Nov 9

In John 5-6, Jesus teaches largely in the midst of a settled hostility or unwillingness to believe in Him. Who does He teach? The other ones, merely the ones who are willing? No, he confronts the unbelievers, and does not mince words with them.

The moral categorizations in this chapter are very clear. It's not only the language, but the thought forms. It's a standard Hebrew thought-form (categorization) to divide the world into the righteous and the wicked. Jesus does not teach against this, but adds to it. Let's look at some of these additions.

In John 5:29-30, all who are in the tombs will come forth, to one of two resurrections, "of life," and "of judgment." This should not surprise us given what Jesus has taught so far! John 5:24 anticipates it: "he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." This single verse sheds light on 5:29-30, which does NOT divide the world into those who pass or fail at the judgment, but on those who have already passed out of death into life, are not judged, versus those who go to judgment! It's not judgment passed or judgment failed, but either life already or judgment!

The two additions are the avoiding of judgment ("does not come into judgment," 5:24, and "resurrection of life" 5:29), and the relationship of that to something that happens at that very time: "he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me" (5:24), a) does not come into judgmnet, and b) has eternal life (5:24)!

What is it "about believing Him who sent Me" in 5:24 that changes things? The negative is also stated in 5:38, "you do not believe Him who He sent." Believing God, as in believing a person, sounds like believing what a person is saying or said. Abraham believed God about the stars, and God credited it to him as righteousness. That's another way of saying this.

Believing God when they hear Jesus's word: this implies the very coordination of activity that Jesus had just explained to them about Himself and His Father. Indeed, He doesn't back off any of it, in the many subtopics from 5:18-38. When Jesus spoke, the question was, were they going to believe God. This implies that God was giving witness to them of the truth of what Jesus said. And, if that were not good enough, the Lord would even allow it, for them to have taken it -- on the testimony of John the Baptist (5:34)!

New Year: John 2-4 for Nov 8

There are a couple of examples here of teaching that Jesus gives that is not fully understood until way later: 2:18-22, and 3:1-12. What Jesus says in 3:1ff is not understood: "how can a man" do this and that, "can he?", and "how can these things be?" However, when it comes to God versus our knowledge, Jesus has a very refreshing thing to say, especially to those with pride in their knowledge and those who have to know all about something before they can believe it: that is verse 8. It's part of the nature of the knowledge, not only of God, who is Spirit, but of everyone else born of God, that knowledge of them is incomplete: "so is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (3:8). They're like the wind; it is manifestly true of the wind, that we do not know where it is going, or where it comes from.

This is the reason Jesus gives for telling Nicodemus "do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again'" (3:7). It's the best part of knowledge, to know that it stops, and not to be amazed that it does.

The second and final comment of Nicodemus here (3:9)is not a real question, but a remonstrance regarding the topic. He doesn't understand how everyone born of the Spirit is like the wind blowing where it wishes, no one knowing its origin or destination. The rest of the chapter expands on the "everyone" of 3:8. Nicodemus, "the teacher of Israel" -- this is not a slam, but an honorific, which makes the irony even stronger! -- should know about the filial status of Israel, in places like Is 1:2-4 and Hosea 11:1, yet there being at that time only hints about eternal life. Like the people shining like stars in Daniel 12,

So Jesus goes back to the Old Testament to explain more about the means of eternal life: "As Moses lifted up ... so must the Son of Man be lifted up ... so that whoever believes" (3:14-15). That's the means.

The giving by God of His Son, the Son being "lifted up," so that people who believe will "have eternal life," is compared for its similarity to when Moses lifted a serpent up onto a pole in Numbers 21:9. The serpent is a symbol of what was cursed back in the garden. It was lifted up for the Israelites to "look to" and be healed! Jesus uses the event to explain a part of His future ministry: through his death ('Christ became a curse for us', Paul says in Gal 3), and resurrection, He was lifted up so that everyone who believed in Him would have, not just a healing limited by time, but eternal life. Nicodemus, who came secretly, by night, to be taught (3:1), got some teaching.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Year: Luke 24; John 1 for Nov 7

A fictional event in a story can affect a person, or many people, to the point of taking action. A space-time event is itself an action, and affects space and time directly. The Resurrection in Luke 24 and the Incarnation in John 1 are the latter kind of event.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

New Year: Luke 22-23 for Nov 6

By paying close attention to Luke 22-23 we realize how easy it is to understand the historical reasons for Jesus's death.

(Matt 26:1 - 27:61 and Mark 14:1 - 15:47 are in the same time sequence as Luke 22-23 when we read them synoptically.)

The particulars of His death were caused by a) the religious conflict since 6:7, 6:11, 20:19, 20:26 and especially after what Luke wrote in 22:2; b) actions of those in authority, not only "the chief priests and the scribes" (23:10), but Herod and Pilate (23:11-12). The fact that what "is written must be fulfilled in Me," 22:37 (which is what Jesus said about what was happening), was in fact happening did not provide the motivation to those who "were seeking how they might put Him to death" (22:2). They had the standard reasons of antagonism, power, and self-protection, as did Herod and Pilate. Jesus, for His part, did not countenance their religion either (16:15).

There are three sources of official antipathy to Jesus pictured here: a) the chief priests and the scribes; b) Herod; and c) Pilate, going from the strongest forces against Jesus, to weakest. Pilate's antipathy is so weak, that he is swayed by the crowd (23:23).

The obstacle to what the "chief priests and the scribes" wanted to do -- "put Him to death" (22:2) -- was the crowd. Judas provided them an opportunity to put that obstacle aside. Luke pointedly says that that Jesus was arrested at a place that it "was His custom" to go to (22:39).

Is that all there is to it, then? The antogonism of a religious group in power. Betrayal of one's routine by one of His disciples. Political expedience. Crowd manipulation.

All that. Add the devil himself (22:3). But Luke 22:37 governs it all. It was a fulfilment, and a fulfillment indeed, of Something great.

Monday, November 07, 2011

New Year: Luke 20-21 for Nov 5

If the macro-situation of the end of the world that Jesus predicted is what finally comes about (Lk 21:25-27), what is the significance of the micro-situation of the two coins the widow contributed (21:1-4)? If things can become that bad for disciples (21:6-17), how will it then turn out that good for them (21:18)?

(Matt 21:23 - 24:44 and Mark 11:27 - 13:37 are in the same time sequence as Luke 20-21 when we read them synoptically.)

There are many examples in ethical instruction that things are spelled out in a deliberately paradoxical fashion. We can think of the hare and tortoise. This is also true in the teaching of Jesus, as we saw just yesterday in Luke 17:33. And that was not even the first time in that chapter (17:6, 10)! It is not as often recognized that 21:16-19 is such a paradox. On two levels: the disciples, some of whom will die, not a hair of their head will perish! Further, the disciples, some of whom are hated by all because of Christ's name, gain their very selves, by outlasting all of them! Because of the parallelism of the conclusions, this passage is a connected saying, not two sayings. The conclusions are parallel: not a hair of their head will perish, and they will endure, gaining lives/souls in the process. Each conclusion illuminates the other. That's how the whole structure of Hebrew parallelism in the OT works, as well.

It is also interesting to think of whether the paradox is meant to apply to the events of 21:10-15 alone, or whether such things are true even in analogous, recurring events, that might happen not only to the first disciples of Jesus, but to any disciples.

New Year: Luke 17-19 for Nov 4

Though Jesus has predictions of the immediate, the near-term, and the far-term, the conceptions among the followers of the far-term future are the ones that He corrected as to their timing; people were supposing them to be about the near-term future (19:11).

(Matt 19:13 - 21:22 and Mark 10:13 - 11:18 are in the same time sequence as Luke 18-19 when we read them synoptically.)

Jesus is predicting specific details of the immediate future (18:32-33), none of which are understood (18:34). He lays out the interim between now and His return by parable (19:11-27). But the interim is only one verse of the parable, 19:12. The rest of the parable is post-interim! Nevertheless, the far-term events are as highly described in prediction (17:22-37) as they are in parable.

These predictions are interwoven with ethical teaching. This is not usually characteristic of popular apocalypticism today, but it is unmistakable in the Lord's teaching. We see this in 17:32-33, the parables of Luke 18, the didactic of 18:18-27,18:28ff., punctuated by 18:30. (Don't read the converse into Luke 18:29-30!)

Short-term (18:31-33), near-term (19:43-44), or long-term (17:22-37), all of it is salted with the salt of His ethics for His followers.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

New Year: Luke 14-16 for Nov 3

In Luke 14, Jesus didn't just leave those who opposed Him to themselves (14:1-6). That laissez-faire idea is a modern resort, often in matters of religion. But Jesus dealt with matters of religion without it.

Two parables, that of the guests (14:7-15) and the dinner (14:16-24) illustrate problems with the life of immediate-advantage-seeking, the first, with those we want to be with, the second, with those we don't want to be with. To those whom you want to be with, don't put yourself in front as their indispensable companion (14:10-11). And those whose invitations get insulting replies by us (14:18-20) will put on their big dinner without us (14:24). As for who we ourselves invite (14:13-14), do what the text says God will do, and states that Jesus constantly does (13:17; 14:4-5) with "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame" (14:21).

Saturday, November 05, 2011

New Year: Luke 12-13 for Nov 2

In these teaching chapters of Luke it should be impossible to read Luke 12-13, without dealing with many different priorities of life.

Priorities of body and soul (12:4-5); of what others know versus what you know (12:2-3); of being rich in one thing or another (12:21,33); of what to chase (12:31); of what to listen for (12:36), get ready for (12:47); of what to negotiate for (12:48).

Then, since there are other agents doing things in this world around us, of most concern God Himself, not everything has to be about what we have on our plate. Sometimes that's a relief, even if He makes things urgent for us (13:24). But His pace is also steady (13:18-21).

As far as opposition, we can oppose it a) knowing our value, so as not to fear (12:6-7); b) without being surprised by it, but c) having a road already laid out for us against it, d) upon which we're on, and upon which we'll reach our goal (13:32).

Friday, November 04, 2011

New Year: Luke 10-11 for Nov 1

If we want to learn it, we often have it repeated to us. Luke 10-11 emphasizes and repeats.

Those who can barely believe that Jesus miraculously healed may have not believed back in 9:1 when this power and authority was given to "the twelve apostles." More than barely believing that is necessary, when we see that Jesus here sends out "seventy others" in 10:1, and they succeed at bringing the kingdom of God near (10:9) to all the places they go, including the healing of the sick (10:9), plus the subjection of demons (10:17).

Jesus responds to them about their success in 10:18. This response shows that the healings of the sick and the subjection of demons, and the casting of them out (11:20), are NOT merely what people often call verification of His identity. That would make them only like a "sign," which is what Jesus preached that generation to be wicked for seeking (11:29). His healings and command over demons and unclean spirits (11:24) spread to the twelve and to the seventy. And the result? Verification to people, of His ministry? No. Instead, His estimate of the work of the seventy is "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning." Healings are not ancillary to the coming of the kingdom; the subjection of demons and of Satan, "a strong man, fully armed" (11:21), is part of the victory of the coming of the kingdom and the devil's fall. It is not mere verification. The ministry of Jesus was truly for the sake of those it ministered to, not to verify Himself to a generation that sought for a sign.

New Year: Luke 8-9 for Oct 31

When Jesus spoke "by way of a parable" to the "large crowd" in Luke 8:4, it wasn't His first parable in Luke (cf. 6:39), but it was the first major one, and His interpretation (8:11-15) is significant.

(Matt 13:1 - 19:1 and Mark 4:1 - 10:1 are in the same time sequence as Luke 8-9 when we read them synoptically.)

Paul's words are similar to Jesus's in Luke 8:12, about believing and being saved, when Paul says that the gospel "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rm 1:16): when in this parable, "seed fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of heaven ate it up" (8:5), in the explanation, "the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart," and we should watch for this in real life, because the real-life purpose of the devil is "so that they will not believe and be saved" (8:12). To be against the devil is to be against his purposes.

One application of this, to those who are spreading "the word of God," (8:11), is to recognize that it if it is true of the sower's seed that "some fell beside the road" (8:5), it may well be true of some spreading of the word of God. Whenever and however long this truly happens with the spreading of the word of God, neither the word of God, nor "those beside the road," neither, interact with the other ... except in one way: they too are those "who have heard" (8:12). This is true of all four cases (8:12,13,14,15).

The conclusion to the parable (8:8, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear") applies to the understanding of the entire parable. What kind of statement is this? Since 8:10 also brings up sight, therefore, comparing 8:8 to "let there be light," it is a similar statement to that: a broadcast of a "let it be true," to all with the physical possession of ears, for their ears to function in the matter of hearing, for the event of the sowing of the word of God. Therefore it is a "fiat," a "let it be true, divinely done by pronouncement, thus done in fact!" It has, then, the broadest success possible regarding the hearing of the word of God: all possessors of ears where the word of God is sown, by this fiat, hear. This not a restriction of the invitation. All four cases hear. In support, we see later, that all four cases explicitly hear: thus 8:8 applies to all upon whom the word of God is sown: they explicitly hear.

We should consider whether this statement means something more as well, especially in light of 8:10. That verse is paradoxical: they are to hear, but not in every way. What way not? As the verse describes it: "hearing, they may not understand" (8:10).

After reading this parable, if we feel like a big mountain has just placed itself next to us, which cannot be dislodged or climbed, that is true! The parable is regarding "the kingdom of God," and its "mysteries." The disciples are divided by the parabolic method from "the rest" (8:10). They are not "the rest": "to you it has been granted to know," Jesus tells them. And Luke has been published throughout the whole earth, almost. Therefore not only has the hearing occured, by fiat, wherever it has been read, but we see, in seeing so many disciples throughout the whole earth, that many have also understood.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

New Year: Luke 6-7 for Oct 30

The forcefulness of Christ's personality is more evident in Luke 6-7 as it unfolds.

(Matt 12:1-21 and Mark 2:23 - 3:12 are in the same time sequence as Luke 6-7 when we read them synoptically.)

We see the forcefulness of Christ in His categorical and summary statements, such as 6:5, 6:46, 7:22-23, and 7:48. He even directly demonstrates to John's disciples what kind of thing could answer their question, on the spot (7:21).

Already, early on in the ministry of Christ here in Luke, there are two occasions when the reaction of a group is "rage" (4:28) or even rage/folly (6:11), that of plotting to do something to Jesus (6:11). Christ's actions are in turn very direct and astounding. There is so little reason that the raising of the widow of Nain's son is so little known (7:11-17), but it was well-known then (7:17).

Christ is forceful in His comments not only about Himself, but about what His disciples, in their position (6:20ff.), should be like (e.g. 6:35-38).

There is a no-nonsense tone in the preaching of Jesus, that we should not miss: 7:35 makes that point didactically. Verses like 7:47-48 illustrate it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

New Year: Luke 4-5 for Oct 29

It is difficult to say enough in praise of how strong an introduction to the ministry of Jesus Luke 4-5 are.

(Matthew 4:1 - 9:17 and Mark 1:12 - 2:22 are in sequence with Luke 4-5, when we view them "synoptically.")

The initiative with the disciples (5:1-11,27-32); the completely different views than the scribes and Pharisees (5:21-26,30-32,36-39); how Jesus dealt with those who were angry with Him (4:25-30); how he dealt with His own disciples who were afraid of Him (5:8-10); His teaching on the pull of tradition and the necessity to avoid it (5:38-39).

But something must be said about the time the Lord "was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil" (4:1-2).

The first-time reader might notice how "technical" these temptations are, i.e., the use of Bible verses, and that does it. But looking up the references, it turns out that we notice that the Lord uses verses from a part of the Old Testament that is not as well-traveled as much as some others. Many have heard the story of the Exodus, but who can say where "man shall not live on bread alone" is? Or "You shall worship the Lord God and serve Him only" is? Or where "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" is (Dt 8:3; 6:13; 6:16)?

It's from a restatement section of the Old Testament, where Moses is restating what happened earlier. So there is secondary application of each of the verses: man shall not live on bread alone is a part of the original sentence, which goes on "but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8:3). The verse itself is being employed in what the verse is saying a man should employ it to do, and not only that, it answers the temptation about bread.

Similarly, Luke 4:8, "you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only" is what Jesus does in not bowing before the devil; as well as that, the content of the verse itself answers the temptation.

Similarly, 4:12. "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test": Jesus does not jump; therefore He does not put the Lord to the test. As well as that, the verse itself is employed to answer the temptation of Jesus to throw Himself down, as to why not. Jesus uses the Word of God in two concurrent ways during these three temptations: He follows it, and He provides it as sufficient answer to the temptation's issue.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New Year: Luke 2-3 for Oct 28

Luke 2 "says things" that you can't say in a textbook way about Christmas. Today there are two tasks laid out, to say something you may have overlooked about Christmas ("how is that possible?"), and to overlook something that others have said about these chapters, and substitute something better.

(Matthew 3:1:17 and Mark 1:1-11 are in sequence with Luke 3, when we view them "synoptically.")

There's something very interesting about the drama of Luke 2:8-14. In Luke 1, the reader can't help noticing that Mary and Zacharias spoke and prophesied about a "done deal": God has done something. At that point, Christ hadn't even been born yet, but was in Mary's womb. Yet to Zach and Mary, God "has brought down rulers" (Mary, 1:52) ... "God has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people" (Zach, 1:68). Done deal. See also Mary in 1:48, 53-55, and Zach in 1:69-71.

In 2:11, however, the fact has occured, "there has been born for you a Savior." The solitary angel ("I bring you," 2:10) gives the news, and the sign. Abstract news? No. "I bring you good news" (2:10). Just that somebody was born, in the "that's nice" kinda-non-newsy way? No. "...born for you" (2:11): for the shepherds. Those shepherds? Yes! One angel. Did you notice that before? In the sky? No. "There stood before them". The angel was right there in front of them (2:9).

Next (2:13), not in the sky, but "with the angel," the next event: "suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host..." On the ground! The Son of God in a manger, and angels on the ground. No need to be embarrassed that the Son of God was born on terra firma, and no need to stick these angels in the sky.

OK. The next task is to talk about how Luke says things that are better than what people have said about Luke 2-3. People have said that there is a gap in our knowledge of the Lord's life, between Luke 2 and Luke 3. Perhaps that habit of mind comes from seeing the date on each page of printed newspaper we read. Don't know. We do, however, have to allow Luke to say things as he wants to, and the Bible in general.

When a prophecy is true, then what it says is true, even if it is said before it happens. What Mary, and Zacharias, and OT prophecies already said about the Messiah is true, even if it is said before it happens, even if it not said after it happens.

Isaiah 53:2 says "He grew up before Him like a tender shoot / And like a root out of parched ground / He has no stately form or majesty / That we should look upon Him / Nor appearance that we should desire Him." Prophecy. It informs us about Jesus's growing up.

Prophecies, however, are not the only way that Luke has told us about the Lord's upbringing. He's been talking about it since 1:5! Zecharias and Elizabeth -- Mary's relatives, whom she stayed with while pregnant with Jesus -- they are lock-step with God's ways (1:6) and Jewish lineage as specific as Jewish lineage can be expressed (1:5). Angels visit both, announcing events! Luke is telling us of the way of life of these particular people, and of Mary's way of life in community with them. Joseph? Lineage of David (1:27). But was Joseph the father of Jesus? It was "as was supposed" only (3:23). But Jesus "of Eli!" (The Greek doesn't say "son",but the list is uniformly, "of A, of B, of C," etc. How could Jesus not be biologically "of" Joseph, but only the supposed descendant, yet be of Eli? Very likely through Mary, as Warfield has researched. So Mary was also daughter of David. The Lord's upbringing was as a son in the line of David. Anything else cluing us to the contents of Luke 2:53 - 3:00? What did Joseph and Mary, pointedly "His parents," do "every year" (2:41)? The required trip. Why did they "not find Him" (2:45) after a day's travel? Isn't the best explanation, that of His uniform trustworthiness?" Could it not be that He was so trusted by them, at this point, that a full travel day of trust was a matter of course, already a common thing.

Not just to hear about it from humans, how about God? Before Jesus even embarked on a single journey of teaching and healing, God appears, and says to Him "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased" (3:22). What else could we ever want to have, which covers Him in every aspect including His upbringing until that point, along with His relationship to God the Father?"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Year: Luke 1 for Oct 27

What is God doing? In Luke 1 God's dramatic work immediately prior to the births of Jesus and John the Baptist is given in great detail.

It's tempting to put Zacharias in a bad light, and Elizabeth in a contrasting light, because of the comment of Zacharias in 1:18 versus the comment of Elizabeth in 1:45. But Luke does not allow that generalization (1:6). In fact, Zacharias is not only the father of John the Baptist who "will be called a prophet" (1:76), but himself speaks prophecy (1:67), the final one before Christ's birth in Luke 2.

Zacharias's words (1:68-79) are not even all, or mostly, about his own son John. Some are (1:76-77), but they're mostly about what the meaning of those times are for Israel. Zacharias "was filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:67). Thus also Elizabeth, before she spoke (1:41). John the Baptist himself, "while yet in his mother's womb" (1:15), the same.

The angel speaks something to Mary (1:35) that thousands of years of theology about the Incarnation have not bettered.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Year: Mark 15-16 for Oct 26

In Mark 15-16 the Lord's death and Resurrection are described in the same factual vein: "He breathed His last" (15:39) is the same reporting language as "He has risen; He is not here" (16:6): no hype in the language, no showiness of speech. When the women talked (16:11,13), the disciples didn't say something like "sweet story," but the disciples "refused to believe" (16:11) or "they did not believe" (16:13) at first. Later, that would change (16:20).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Year: Mark 13-14 for Oct 25

The discussion/discourse of Mark 13, which goes to "the end" and beyond (13:13) towers over the events of Mark 14 to the same extent that the Lord does. There is a context into which these events of Mark 14 have already been put.

(Matthew 24:1 - 26:75 and Luke 21:5 - 22:71 are in sequence with Mark 13-14, when we view them "synoptically.")

This pattern is again evident, the teaching about the significance of future events preceding the events themselves (1:2,8,24; 2:9-12,20; 3:14,19,28-29;4:24-25; 5:28), and here it is explicitly punctuated and emphasized (13:23).

Peter, James, and John were the three at the Transfiguration (9:2), and in Mk 13:3, Andrew, Peter's brother, is also there. Mark 13 in certain parts has that same panoramic scope throughout time that we notice in Mk 8:38, 9:41, 10:40 as well. Finally, these four notice it, and have two questions in 13:4. The next section (Mark 13:5-13), like the telescoped saying in 8:38 takes His disciples throughout all time until the end, from that time until the end. The second part (13:14ff) starts by describing a single situation, and sounds for all the world like a situation which the Lord is preparing His four disciples and their contemporaries who are reading this for. Then He goes back in 13:24, "but in those days, after that tribulation....")

Looking at it that way, Jesus answers both questions of 13:4. When the taking down of stone from stone will be (13:14-23), and what the sign will be when all these things will be fulfilled, both those described in 13:2, the sign being 13:14, and those described in 13:26, the sign being 13:24-25.

Before going onto the time of the Lord's arrest, Mark describes the exhortation to alertness, which is not easily transmuted to be like an exhortation to "be good" for Santa, or an exhortation to be good. It is not "be good," as such, what we might expect, with an accompanying threat, but to keep on the alert, be on the alert. What has the Lord just given the disciples for all time, to be alert about? A possibly particular event in Judea, or at least that Judea would know about (13:14) ... and a world-wide event that "they will see" (13:26). The exhortation, fascinatingly, is against finding us "asleep" (13:36). It is pointedly not accompanied by a warning of something negative, just an exhortation to not be found asleep -- reminding me of what a groom might say to his bride, or even some surprise wrapped in the timing, for the Son, from the Father (13:32).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Year: Mark 11-12 for Oct 24

Jesus is not only intimate with the details of the immediate future (Mark 11:3,6) but of the ties between far future and present (12:40).

(Matthew 21:1 - 23:12 and Luke 19:29 - 21:4 are in sequence with Mark 11-12, when we view them "synoptically.")

The parable of the vineyard owner (12:1-11) is heart-wrenching, but has a twist at the end (12:10-11), which makes it a real problem for those who think the church invented the applications of the parables. Here, the inexplicable actions of the vineyard owner are resolved only by 12:10-11. The Lord, about to be "rejected" and killed, "became the chief corner stone," (12:10). The people were often astonished (11:18), but they were also glad to listen (12:37). However, when "the chief priests and the scribes and the elders" (11:27) "understood that He spoke the parable against them (12:12), though they were also often amazed (12:17), they would characteristically just leave (12:12).

However, those he spoke against were not spoken against en masse, as if everything was a generalization against the label "scribe" or "elder" or "priest." For example, one scribe was highly commended (12:34), in a very enigmatic way that defies most systematizers.

The teaching to the disciples is of the highest and most inspirational quality (11:20-25) amidst all this. The Lord's time in Jerusalem was His as Lord of history, as much as any other time. All that the Lord said to the disciples here was for the quality of their ongoing lives (11:20-25; 12:43).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Year: Mark 8-10 for Oct 23

There have been hints that the time of the Lord's being taken from the disciples would come (Mark 2:20). Here in Mark 8-10, especially accompanied by the picture of Mark 10:32, with Jesus walking alone ahead of the disciples, on the road going up to Jerusalem, the reader can also understand why "those who followed were fearful" (10:32).

(Matthew 15:32 - 20:34 and Luke 9:18 - 18:43 are in sequence with Mark 8-10, when we view them "synoptically.")

But the road is also a follower's road. The one who wishes "to come after Me" (8:34) is not being given initial conditions, but the conditions for each step: each step must be self-denial, and each step must be the taking up of one's own cross.

In the rebuking of the disciples for not yet seeing or understanding (8:17), not only do we see the specifics: the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, which is 1) religious hypocrisy and 2) the submission of one's conscience to the pursuit of power (as Herod did with John the Baptist in chapter 6), but we also see that the Lord expected understanding from His disciples by this point (8:21).

There are a couple of verses that defy references in this section. For example, 9:13. There are no cross references in my normally full edition. Where is it that they did to Elijah "just as it is written of him"? The only thing I could think of was something like I Kings 19:2.

Chapter 10, in discussion about the entering into the kingdom of God (10:15,25) , and the disciples amazed (10:24), and even more astonished (10:26), it is often taught as a lesson on humility. It should be rather taught as a lesson on impossibility (10:27) for man.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Year: Mark 6-7 for Oct 22

The huge extent and impact of the ministry of Christ in Mark 6-7 contrasts with the lacuna of Nazareth also described here (6:6).

(Matthew 13:53 - 15:31 and Luke 9:1-17 are in sequence with Mark 6-7, when we view them "synoptically.")

The Lord's ministry, a secular viewpoint might coin it about these chapters, seems charmed. Jesus is not the only person whose popularity skyrockets. Every day and every culture can display those whose popularity skyrockets. In what way does the Lord's ministry interact with this environment? In the last chapter we saw that Jesus gave strict orders "that no one should know" about Jairus's daughter being raised up (5:43). In our chapters today, the Lord takes the disciples to a secluded place for rest (6:31-32). It doesn't last. Crowds come and come, running (6:33), pleading for the smallest contact (6:36). So the feeding of the five thousand (6:33-44) was originally supposed to have been a retreat.

Similarly, the sending of the twelve in 6:7-13: Jesus tells the disciples not to prepare in the slightest any more than the preparation for a part of one day; that is what He instructed them to do (6:8-12). Why? In this gospel, we put two and two together again. We must conclude that Mark does not describe Jesus's ministry as a manipulation for greatness of effect. He tells those He has healed to keep quiet, giving glory to God in their locality (1:44; 5:19). The demons are silenced (3:12). He leaves places in which His reputation is spreading (1:38). In the teaching, the kingdom of heaven starts as the smallest seed (4:30ff). And in the enigmatic statement, often repeated in the gospels, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (4:19; 4:23) there is an invitation, based on the existing condition. Jesus is not ordering loudspeakers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Year: Mark 3-5 for Oct 21

Mark's own way of describing the teaching of Jesus in the context of His ministry is to encourage the reader to put two and two together.

(Matthew 12:9 - 13:52 and Luke 6:6 - 8:56 cover the same period as Mark 3-5, when we view them "synoptically.")

For example Mark 1:1 puts forth as the first thing we know about Him, that He is the Son of God. The next verse, describing Him as the OT Messenger, quotes two passages, saying in effect, put them together. In 1:17 Mark gives the invitation to discipleship for two brothers, and allows us to use it to modify our shock at the actions of the next two in 1:20. In 1:38, the Messenger goes on to more towns ... we need that explanation to understand His healing ministry.

Part of Mark 4 is a series of parables, which implicitly invites us to put two and two together. What could be behind productiveness, and non-productiveness in the parable of the sower and soils (4:1-9)? Could it be in another saying closeby, such as 4:24-25, as well as the other juxtaposed sayings and parables? If we combine thoughts, there is a sense that things that have happened, even sadder ones such as the crowds not understanding Him according to plan (4:12), or the disciples being chosen, including one who betrayed Him later, are according to plan (3:13). The sower is sowing -- the word, which is something that is purposive (4:14).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Year: Mark 1-2 for Oct 20

(Matthew 3:1 - 12:8 and Luke 3:1 - 6:5 cover the same period as Mark 1-2, when we view them "synoptically.")

By the end of this very first chapter of Mark we are confronted with a figure of history whose appearance is like nothing if not "the Son of God" (1:1) -- Mark states the title, but we must fill its meaning in, inductively: we can see the unchangeableness and goodness of the Creator combined with the energetic goodness of the repeated and frequent actions of One to whom God says "in You I am well-pleased" (1:11).

This compelling action undertaken by "Jesus Christ, the Son of God" starts after John had been taken into custody. Repeatedly Mark mentions "preaching" (1:14,38, 39), teaching (1:21,22,27), and casting out what Mark calls unclean spirits and demons (1:23,26,27,34).

The compelling action Christ undertakes extends to His calls to His disciples: the calls are more like calls to join the Seals than the calls of a teacher or even preacher (1:17, 20). As God's "messenger" (1:2) there is need to go around to many cities (1:38), and the agenda does not change regarding His taking the initiative: it is the same initiative at the beginning, when nobody knew Him, to later, when everybody looked for Him (1:37). He does not surrender the initiative of His ministry up to others.

When we go behind the scenes and behind the doors (1:29ff) even though crowds will certainly be coming. there it is peace, healing (1:31), and regularity (2:13), though of an unexpected kind (2:16,18,24).

Thus the religious conflict between Christ and the scribes (2:6) does not at first come about through antagonism to His person as such, as in pure animosity, but because of the fact that they can't stomach the content of what He is saying (2:5,7). Christ does not dismiss their uneasiness, but addresses it (2:8-10). The teaching is bursting the skins of the existing system, however. This is stated as a principle or parable (2:21-22), as well as starkly and directly (2:28).

New Year: Matt 27-28 for Oct 19

The accomplishments of the Messiah in the gospel according to Matthew are presented to the OT-prepared readers. The fact that they included His death and resurrection was known to the reader from chapter 16 onward, and we've seen how they transpired in these last two chapters of the gospel.

Christ's identity as the Son of God as well is so well-attested that His enemies testify to it (27:43) at the cross. Neutral parties become convinced of it (27:54).

People often wonder at why the Resurrection itself (28:5,6) does not get its own at-the-time description. There is plenty of witness to the aftermath of it, the number one witness being, of course, Himself being present, with all the words and actions and physicality (28:9ff).

Part of the answer is that Matthew combines his own witness with the prophecies of the OT, and the readers are not trying to depend on something of which they have no other prior witness of. The traitor's price had a witness there. The Gentiles got their witness (27:19), but it wasn't of something they would be able to control. It was according to plan. Matthew showed the disciples (16:21) that Christ "must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day." This was what God made necessary. We are quite justified to expect His presence with us to the end of the age (28:20).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Year: Matt 24-26 for Oct 18

One common theme in these chapters is the contrary-to-expection quality of what the Messiah will do in the future, both near and far-term.

Those who say that the whole idea of the future return of Christ is invented, and did not come from Him, have a problem on their hands that comes from the structure of the passages here. It is true that the events are taught in a setting that is far removed from the A.D. 30's, and sweeps across history (24:9). However, that is just as true of Matthew 10 (10:18-23)! The tenor of what Jesus is saying is unmistakably His in both places. It is not a patchwork.

Some of this unmistable tenor is as follows: the Lord asks us in many ways in this gospel, to not worry, yet here He is saying to beware lest something occur, and warns us to do certain things in case. To punctuate just one of these sections (24:15-24), He ends it with "behold, I have told you in advance." How is it that so many dark things will be happening, and we (as a unitary group from the time He spoke these things until He returns) told to watch out for this and that, and yet it is enough to hear "behold, I have told you in advance?" It must be because He's also predicting our safe passage. Being saved means being safe. "He who endures to the end" describes not their qualities of heart, but the ticking of their heart, and God bringing them to safety.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New Year: Matt 21-23 for Oct 17

Matthew 21-23 contains the most remarkable extended confrontation of Christ with the religion of outward pretense in all the gospels. And yet Matthew 23 ends on a hint of hope even for those He has confronted (23:39).

We have been gradually prepared for this confrontation from previous ones, from as early as chapter 2 (2:3ff). And we should expect that Matthew, who wrote presenting the Messiah from the first verse onward (Matthew 1:1, "Jesus, the Messiah,"), will present Him not only in His relationship to those in support, but in His relationship to those who oppose Him; in relationship not only to that which supports, but to that which opposes Him.

For the Lord knows to deal, in real-time, on the spot, with the sin of those who sin against Him. Where discussion suffices, He explains with discussion (21:16). When there is hypocrisy behind the discussion of a subject, He dismisses the subject, but not those discussing (21:28,33,40; 22:1), and continues until they themselves go off (22:15), at least temporarily (22:16). He confounds their intellectual traps (22:15), and conundrums (22:28-30), and along the way shows such an obvious mastery of the Old Testament (22:32,37-39,44-45) that not only are those kinds of questions stopped, but the crowds are astonished at His teaching (22:33). Along the way, the reader hears a summary of the whole Law and Prophets (22:40).

People might say not to memorize chapter 23, because it is so specific to those people and that time. Is it? Regarding people (23:12)? And is it, regarding the time (23:39)?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Year: Matt 18-20 for Oct 16

We know lots more in these chapters about specifics of the Lord's teaching, all the more so because the people who He ministers to in these chapters are "all over the map." They want greatness (20:21); they want to have at least the knowledge of measure of personal greatness (18:1); they want their own specific formulations answered (18:21; 19:10), but His teaching breaks the formulations in every case (18:1-3; 18:18; 18:35; 19:9; 19:17; 20:14-16; 20:26-28).

So with the disciples searching for ways to do comparisons, the Pharisees doing their tests, mothers doing their preferment attempts -- not to mention the man trying to get to inherit eternal life in steps -- the Lord's teaching breaks this achievement-bound thinking in many ways. In 18:1-6 and 19:13-15 the Lord puts forward children, universally thought of as those who have not achieved, as those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs (19:14), and from who something must be gathered, which everything depends on (18:3). For those who think of achievement as time spent, the Lord has a parable about the generous employer who ignores time spent (20:1-16). The needy (19:2; 20:29-34), and the ones who are too young to have done much or even anything, or too late to have worked much, are teaching the rest.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Year: Matt 15-17 for Oct 15

We can't even just plain understand who the Son of Man is without help with a capital H. Big help. God needs to reveal who He is, to Peter (Matt 16:14-17).

Some things are people's responsibility to understand; for example, in the Pharisees' and Sadducees' case, the signs of the times (16:3); the word of God (15:6), not to transgress (15:3) and invalidate it (15:6) for the sake of tradition.

There are things to beware of, in the pursuit of what the disciples need to know, for example, the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:12). The disciples fail in the area of understanding (16:11), and it involves their not remembering what they have seen (16:9) and its significance, and it somehow should be associated with being "men of little faith" (16:8; 17:20) as well.

But it is not a quid pro quo. It's not that Peter achieved some ladder-like position of greater faith, but that God the Father revealed to Peter the two parts of his answer (16:16-17). The subsequent promises are also unilateral acts (16:18-19).

Previously, Jesus had antagonistic opposition to His actions, and, as we would have expected from early on (5:20), to His teaching. Now, some of the opposition is even picayune (15:2), or that of petty offense taking (15:12), or trap-setting (16:1), but some of it was of the worst consequence to the those who opposed Him (12:24-32). What kind of thing is opposition to the Lord's practice (15:2), to His teaching (15:11), to the continuing of His agenda without their approval (16:1)? Is it not ultimately over time ensuant of Jesus suffering and death (16:21)? Perhaps that's the leaven-aspect of the teaching He warns about (16:12). What is taught has effect.

Jesus introduces the subject of His suffering and death here, and we read of Peter and the disciples' (16:20) dealing with it for the first time. For Peter, James, and John, the Transfiguration, and the accompanying understanding they were given (17:5) did not prevent their grief (17:22-23).

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Year: Matt 12-14 for Oct 14

The combined acts and teaching of the Lord in these chapters draw the crowds and amaze the disciples. But these chapters more bring out the "ethical effects," we can call them, of His ministry (His own presence, His actions, and His teaching), upon various individuals, sets, and types of people. What are these ethical effects, and with what (individuals, sets, types of) people?

With "the Pharisees" (12:2,14,24), in "their synagogue" (12:9):
correction concerning religion in general (12:7), the Sabbath (12:8,12), and their view of Him (12:27-32).

With "His disciples" (12:1,49; 13:10-11,16-17,24,31,33,36; 14:22,31):
knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, (13:11-12); the seeing eye and the hearing ear (13:16); instances of courage and faith (14:16-18,26-33).

With the "large crowd" (12:15, 46; 13:2-3,11-15,34-36; 14:14,19); healing of all, teaching among them for the granting more to him who has, and the taking away from him who does not have (13:12).

With "this evil generation" as a whole (12:38-45): providing the one sign of Himself, and the many witnesses against it because of not repenting at at the opportunity and because of the return of evil afterwards.

With "all who were sick" (12:10-13,22; 14:14,34-35); immediate healing, and the preemminence of doing good above the Sabbath law.

With "his hometown and his household" (13:53-58): not many miracles, because of unbelief and the taking of offense at Him.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Year: Matt 9-11 for Oct 13

There has not been a moment's rest from excitement to read the next thing, from the first verse of Matthew which mentions the Messiah, to now at the end of chapter 11, until that moment perhaps, there in that last paragraph of chapter 11, Matt 11:28-30, where Jesus directly promises rest.

Reading with anticipation what Messiah Himself was doing among the lost sheep of Israel's house (Mt 10:6), we saw that everything was going at a fast pace, combining authoritative teaching with a level of the miraculous that had never been seen before in Israel (9:33). But when the Lord sends His twelve disciples with His authority to do what He had been doing, a grand panoramic scope of activity over space, and over time unfolds (10:23). What it means that the Messiah has arrived for Israel covers not only all Israel, but all of the time until Christ, the Son of Man, "comes," and subsequent to that. The reception not only of Christ, but of those He sends, brings the consequences of the next age in (10:40-42; 11:20-24).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Year: Matt 6-8 for Oct 12

Matt 6:2 --

Reading this verse woodenly, we might not see the irony, the humor, in the portrayal of the trumpet player. The clue is that "in the synagogues" and "in the streets" is where the acts would occur, but the trumpet playing, described for irony as a subsequent act, is not a subsequent act (Jesus was not talking about actual trumpet events at synagogue and in the streets!). The picture represents the appropriate high ridicule heaped on the act itself. How many times have people read this verse, not thinking, and thought, "hmm, of course I would never play a trumpet, i.e. brag, right after I gave to the poor ... how ridiculous." Good! But giving to the poor in order be honored ... IS playing the trumpet. No subsequent concert necessary, the trumpet has already been played. It's not bragging afterwards, which we would tend to easily laugh at. Therefore, let the humor of that instruct us.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Year: Matt 3-5 for Oct 11

Having emphasized so much how things that transpired fulfilled the prophets, Matthew presents John the Baptist in the same vein (Matt 3:3). The time right before a unique and unrepeatable event is a unique and unrepeatable time, if somehow we become aware that it is at hand (3:2). The blessing of John the Baptist to the nation was just such a thing.

It brought those who came to him, even the "brood of vipers," into a correct preparation for what the prophets had predicted, the kingdom of heaven, but John did not, nor could not, do that himself. God warned those who came, to flee from the wrath to come. That was the answer to John's question in 3:7.

The exhortation to them therefore is not a dare, as if John taunted those who came to him to bear fruit because they could not. "Therefore bear fruit..." Since God has warned them, John exhorts those God has thus warned to flee, to do this, and not be inert like stones, which nevertheless God can transform even though they are inert. God has warned, and therefore it is God who says something should be done, actions taken. They are not stones, but have been given their warning to act, which stones cannot do.

This flight from the wrath to come will be a success if a tree bears fruit. The axe is laid at the root of all trees, since the kingdom of heaven is at hand, but the fruit bearing tree will not be cut down and will not be thrown into the fire.

What is the fruit? Is it the repentance? No, but it, the fruit, is in keeping with repentance. It fits with repentance. It fits also with the flight from the wrath to come. Since they are in flight, having been warned by God no less than Joseph was in his situation (2:22), John commends and points them to the bearing of fruit, Fruit in keeping with repentance is fruit in keeping with their flight.

John associates himself and his baptism with repentance, but promises something which is very close now, which is much bigger. He who is coming will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

He had just talked about fire (3:10), before saying that (3:11). That which John prepares them for (the kingdom of heaven) is coming upon them, and "He who is coming after me" is going to immerse them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Whom? To whom will He who is coming after John do this? To those who came to John. So much the more, then, the call to bear fruit is urgent, since the one who is coming is the one who harvests the wheat and burns the chaff.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Year: Matt 1-2 for Oct 10

The coming of the Messiah is good news for the Jews of Matthew's time -- pending investigation of the claim, that is. That is how Matthew approaches it. He gives the very important geneology, and starts with what is already known to be the case by the OT-steeped readers: Abraham, his descendants, and the names known in the history of Israel.

Thus Matthew doesn't assume the case of Jesus' Messiahship, but sets forth the facts to the reader, with all the awareness that one should not assume the thing one is trying to prove (1:16): "who is called the Messiah" is very circumspect language, and is right in the middle of the deployment of the evidence.

People who have trouble counting the fourteens can be helped by the following acronyms, which show the three sets of fourteens in 1:17: [AIJJPHRANSBOJD], [SRAAJJUJAHMAJ"D"], [JSZAEAZAEEMJJ"M"].

The logical steps of Matthew 1-2 are very clear: genealogy, birth, and parentage of the Messiah. Layed on top of this history is interwoven, with no apology whatsover, a staggering set of facts about the Messiah that are only explainable in two ways: that they are from God, and that they are from the Old Testament. But to the Jew, this is an OF COURSE, something to be expected, when and if God sends Messiah.

1. Stars guiding Gentiles, who seem to know something about the "born king of the Jews." Contra Herod and Jerusalem in toto. Their skillset, astronomy, is used by God, but in a totally divinely ordained way, and obviously so: they get guided by the star, lose track of it and have to detour to Jerusalem to get directions, from of all people, Herod! then, they find the star again, not knowing at that point the danger to the Messiah they have seemingly caused, yet God superintending this all!

2. This no normal birth, and Messiah is not merely David's son, but God's! All handled by the intervention of God not only with Mary, but into Joseph's life, guiding him in detail on what to do, from the beginning to the end. Old Testament prophecy confirms to the reader as well (1:23).

3. Most importantly of all, Matthew reports, not as his own theological reflection on Jesus, but as the pre-birth words of the angel, and thus as a message of divine origin, that Jesus, the child's name, is what Joseph will call Him, ... BECAUSE He will save His people from their sins! (1:21). Matthew reports this, as one of the details of an announcement to Joseph, and this conclusion has been the master of thousands of years of the best efforts at theology and the significance of Christianity. All wrapped up in one comment by an angel to Joseph, which Matthew reports.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

New Year: Mal 1-4 for Oct 9

The prophet Malachi's word from God to Israel comes to them largely in the form of question-and-answer dialog with them (1:2,6-9,13;2:13-14,17;3:7,13-15). Mostly, God queries, and they have no answer. To their queries, God answers, but the answers don't affirm the nation's condition as satisfactory. The prophet closes the Old Testament with prediction of God's unilateral restorative action.

As in other prophets, present conditions are contrasted with a time yet future (1:5,11;3:1-5,10-12,17-18;4:1-3,5-6). The effect of these future actions of God is described in two ways: a delightful land and blessed nation (1:5; 3:12), and the separation of the righteous and wicked through the judgment of the latter, which "will leave them neither root nor branch" (4:1).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Year: 1 Kings 5-6 for Apr 8

In 5:5 Solomon repeats things from the Davidic covenant given by the prophet Nathan to David in 2 Sam 7.

Solomon doesn't re-iterate 2 Sam 7:13, however. David had understood in 2 Sam 7 that there are portions that applied to the covenant, "that it may continue forever before You" (1 Sam 7:29). In fact, the whole prayer of David in 2 Sam 7:18-29 is a great example of what you can do, when the Lord has NOT just given you a to-do list, but what you can do and say to Him about what He has promised to do Himself (cf. 2 Sam 7:27-29).

Look, however, at some intervening events. In 2 Kings 2, David, as his "time to die drew near" (2:1), says things that have another reference and emphasis, telling Solomon that the Lord had said 'if your sons are careful of their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel'" (2:4).

This is quite a different emphasis than what is said in the language of the covenant, is it not? Is it not different in its emphasis than 2 Sam 7:14-16? "'I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; you throne shall be established forever.'" It is different, but it is complementary, not contradictory.

There is a time in which God appears to Solomon himself, after this, in a dream, in 1 Kings 3:5ff. Here, this is what God says to Solomon ... compare it to what David had said in 1 Kings 2:4, because it is quite different, and also complementary, not contradictory: "If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days" (3:14). And that was the final word from God to Solomon in the dream: "Then Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream!" (3:15).

Solomon, enlightened by 3:14, goes forward with his task at hand, the building of the temple. What happens if we peek ahead to later, especially 1 Kings 9:1ff, since there, the text is making a backward reference to 3:5, and see how God elaborates on the implications of the Davidic covenant He made in 2 Sam 7?

There are further events, together with God's explanations of them, coming. Compare especially 1 Kings 11:9-13.


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