Thursday, January 29, 2015

Acts 3:1-4:4

In the same way that it was not because of a calculation or strategy of his own divising that Peter "raised his voice" to preach in Acts 2, but Peter was responding to what God done, because God "has poured forth this which you both see and hear" (Ac 2:33), so Peter did not set up a platform for his sermon in Acts 3:11, but denied anything about the healing  of "the man who had been lame from his mother's womb" (3:2) to be due to "our own power or piety" (3:12), when the man began walking and leaping and praising God and clinging to Peter and John,  and caused a crowd to come to the portico of Solomon (3:9,11).  Luke is giving a distinct flavor to the initial growth of the movement, that it was not originating in a human push.  But Peter and John certainly do things here in Acts 3!

The combination of God's working and man's actions is thus not a problem for Luke: here in the healing, God's power is used by Peter, and Peter does nothing by his own power or piety.  But that is just one way in which Luke describes the working of God in events. In the sermon of our current chapter, Peter gets very bold, once again, in assigning sinful actions and responsibility for them to men: "you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer ..." (3:14).   But when explaining that further, Peter says that "you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also" (3:17).  (Now you have to know your Old Testament Levitical laws to know that acting in ignorance was no "excuse").   Therefore Peter is very proper to say both that God "has thus fulfilled" ... "the things ... announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer" (3:19), and to tell them "therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away" ... including the very sins he has just mentioned (3:19).

So, here we have an example, first, of God working powerfully in a healing, and second, of Peter describing God working to fulfill prior things announced, in the sins done in ignorance mentioned in 3:13-15.  

Next, in 3:19-20, Peter exhorts them to do something for the purpose of God causing something, three things actually, to come about.  The people were to "repent and return so that [1] your sins may be wiped away, [2] in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, [3] and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you."  So does Peter have a doctrine that God and man have no interactivity?  No.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gal 2:11-21

The depth of the drama between Paul and seems-like-everybody at Antioch (Peter, men from James, the rest of the Jews, Barnabas) can probably not be decided since we don't know if Paul spoke 2:15-21 on that occasion.  But this drama is practically the drama that defines how the newness of the New Testament was fought for by Paul.

"They were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (2:14).  The truth of the gospel makes it wrong and false to "compel the Gentiles to live like Jews" (2:14).    Paul tells Peter "in the presence of all" -- all these groups at Antioch above -- "you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews."  Peter's two acts were: 1) holding himself aloof, beginning to withdraw (2:12), though he "used to eat with the Gentiles" (2:12); 2) compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews (2:14).

Notice the movement: from eating with, to not eating with.  Paul calls this "compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews."  What?  Just eating separately from Gentiles when the Jewish brothers came?  Doesn't that come under "hospitality"?  Why not?

Paul says Peter "stood condemned" in his actions.  The Galatians get a letter, but Peter got it from Paul's face.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mt 3:7-4:16

In Mt 3:7, John the Baptist tells "many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism" what to do because they are fleeing from the wrath to come, not what to do, because they are not.

This is the great principle of God's way of fruitfulness: first the good root, then the good fruit.   As Jesus says later, "there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, again, a bad tree which produces good fruit " (Lk 6:43; cf. Mt 12:33).

Mt 3:8, similarly, is forward-looking, not backward-looking.  In other words, it's not an accusation, but a direction for them to go.  As was the baptism of John itself.  The baptism of John was not backward-looking, either as accusation or commendation.  The baptism of John was not for the righteous, but for those "as they confessed their sins," including the "brood of vipers" -- many of the Pharisees and Sadducees he saw.

To man, that doesn't sell.  You don't sell many books on diet, if the pictures that go in the books are only of those needing to diet.  But God is not judging ... yet.  In the same breath John categorizes them by their past sins, with "brood of vipers" (3:7), he tells them that God has warned them to flee the wrath to come.  He then, with a rhetorical question, asks them who warned them, and therefore to keep going. As if to say "who warned you?  God?  Tremendous, take heart from that, and bring forth fruit in keeping with it.  Keep going, don't set back."

1 Tim 3

This chapter is another chapter in which Paul is considered to not be characteristic of himself.  However this chapter, along with chapter 2, are excellent illustrations of how Paul does ethics given the general statements Paul makes in 1:8-9 about what is appropriate or not, "for a righteous person."

In chapter 2 we looked at how Paul was giving personal instructions and expressing his ways of leadership.  In this chapter Paul continues with the ethical statements regarding the office of overseer, but reminds us of an amazing foundation for all godliness (reminding us of just who it is who is writing these things!), at the end, in 3:16.

As mentioned, people have a hard time with Paul here.  If "an overseer ... must be above reproach, ... prudent, respectable, ... have a good reputation with those outside" then where is there room for "blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me."  (1 Tim 3:1; Mt 5:11)?  The ethics seem to be "less" than brought forth in the teachings of Christ.  Is there a place for "respectable" in the church?

Of course.  There is a place.  There came to be a place.  There always has been a place.  It is a localized place, not a be-all and end-all of ethics.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lk 1:57-2:7

The very religiosity of the gospels should not blind us to the fact that Mary and Elizabeth were relatives; and thus John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were also relatives.  It puts some extra "oomph" into John the Baptist's statement in Jn 1:30-31, where John the Baptist is saying of his own relative Jesus, "After me comes a man ... I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water."  A historian reading these documents for the first time might say, "ah yes, a movement started by perhaps two cousins, one giving way to another."  It has that kind of "things happen all the time like this" feel: relatives who think alike, start movements, all through history.  Fair enough.

But how about Luke?  He documents, in great detail, the theologies of their mothers!  Here it is the 24th day of the year, and we've proceeded already to the call of the disciples and preaching in Galilee in Mk and Jn, but in Luke, we're still thoroughly researching and discovering the background of the mothers involved!  A true historian's heart!

We can take Lk 1:57 in this vein, that Luke is emphasizing the normalcy of what happened to Elizabeth when John the Baptist was born.  These beginnings were not solely for their miracles.  They were historical-miracle stories.  They didn't happen in Oz.  Not everything they did was involving the miraculous and unexplainable.  Elizabeth and Mary, both pregnant: the one who was so miraculously, stayed three months with her relative whose birth was naturally caused: although Luke records that the relatives to Elizabeth were very happy for her, saying the Lord had magnified His mercy toward her (1:58), just like relatives say; although the father had been unable to speak for the last nine months, just like the neighbors say.  After Zecharias's voice returned, the neighbors' say was multiplied (1:65).  And so was Zecharias's (1:67ff.).

Keep in mind, as Luke is writing this, and the readers, including ourselves, are reading this, we already know -- as Mary knew, as Elizabeth knew, having both known together -- that the Lord Jesus was related to them as their Lord.  Elizabeth had surmised this during her pregnancy! -- ("How has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?" she asked in 1:43)-- but Luke is recording the stir regarding John the Baptist, who he'd be.  The gospel of John does this a little bit too.  We've seen that the first player whose historical actions he mentions is John the Baptist, even in the middle of the cosmic language about the Word! (Jn 1:6).  The darkness did not comprehend the light, and a man came, sent from God!  This wasn't a plot device.  Luke, in such a magnificent way, totally independently of John, writes the history, and it sounds like history, not a plot device.  It is the history of the Incarnation, not a plot device.

So did Zecharias really say this, as Luke records in 1:67-79?  Almost as if Luke knew some would ask that question, he prefaces it by saying "and his father Zecharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying ...." (1:67).  No wiggle room.

Why is it that we would demur?  If we invent theories like "priests don't know Greek that well," or "priests don't rhyme" there are lots of  smart bilingual priests, and lots of theology already laid down in the Old Testament as poetry.  But why are we trying to put a lid on what Luke says was unique: "Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied."?    Let the facts clobber your presuppositions, OK?  How otherwise could the excellence of 1:68-79 be explained?  I could be considered out of my mind for saying it this way, but in the middle of the prophecy, Protestantism is prophesied!  Did Luke's eloquence concoct that?  (1:77).  Had Luke already written a systematic theological treatise to explain that the Protestant understanding of salvation being of God alone (1:78) would need to be put into Zechariah's mouth for future generations to see it, or was Zechariah filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, "saying ..." (1:67)? 

If Luke 2:1 reflects an external urgency upon Joseph and Mary to travel during the final days of her expectation of giving birth, this was a different kind of explanation for the location of the major event -- the birth of Christ -- than the announcement to Zecharias, to Mary, the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, the birth of John, the loosing of Zecharias's tongue, and his prophecy.  Even the visit of Mary to Elizabeth had a divinely-guided aspect to it (1:36), and some of its detail (1:43).  In other words, things going properly, according to divine announcements and revelation.  Here, the external circumstances show that God is the God over difficulty as well.  It was not easy to travel in the final days of her expectation, and certainly not a feeling of fulfilling prophecy, to travel for a census.   

Friday, January 23, 2015

Rm 2:25-3:20

Paul continues with a prime example of a false argument he deals with, an argument about doing well at something in the Law, some aspect or  part of the Law by which they, as far as keeping the covenant, actually thought of themselves as actually keeping the the covenant, because of their keeping an entering into keeping covenant.  Paul is dealing here with an "I've gotten in the door" argument..

Circumcision is an undisputed example of their idea of that door.  Isn't going through the entrance point,  namely, circumcision, of value?  His answer is 2:25.  Again, we might tend to think Paul is saying that he agrees that circumcision is an entrance point, and that  Paul either has better entrance points, new entrance points, or cares only about exits.  We will see.  But the truth is that here, Paul denies that circumcision is anything but a possibly temporary entrance point before God.  He does so in 2:26-27.  Circumcision, far from being a permanent entrance point, is only so if subsequently, one abides inside!  It is something that, if someone "keeps the requirements of the Law" (2:26), or "if he keeps the Law" (2:27) without that one thing, will be regarded -- by God! -- as having been circumcised, as having entered!

This has got to befuddle those who "rely upon the Law" (2:17).  If you imagine the Law as a city, and circumcision as a gateway into it, Paul is saying that getting in, becomes the same as being outside, if when you're in, you violate the rules of the city (2:25).  Those in the city, who don't violate the rules of the city, will be regarded as having come in(2:26).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

1 Peter 2:11-25

Peter is not stylistically the same as Paul, who loves to collect exhortations after describing things that are true of us in Christ, such as in Romans and Ephesians.  In our section, having just stated in 2:10 what is true of us in Christ, Peter immediately exhorts us to do something directly because of it in 2:11.

Another difference between many of Peter's and many of Paul's exhortations is that Paul will state things in a way that any Christian, even one who has just begun or recently failed, can apply immediately in any case, and Peter will say things that Christians who have succeeded at some kind of behavior can apply.  We saw that in the last section, in 1:22.  There, he built a three-storey building: bottom floor was they had been born again of seed which is imperishable.  Second floor is they have in obedience to the truth purified their souls for a sincere love of the brethren, and the third floor to be built was "fervently love one another from the heart!" (1:22-23).

Peter teaches similarly in 2:12.  They had been displaying excellence?  Well, Peter says "keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles."  Someone may well ask at that point, "really Peter, is that worth saying?"  But what does Peter then say?   What does Peter envision the result might possibly be, so that they would determine to do so?

In very compact language, Peter starts with the fact that the Gentiles had been slandering his readers as evildoers (2:12), about some item, some "thing in which they slander you."  A good person is often confronted with this fact, that although they've done something good, it has been responded to with evil deeds.  The temptation to the good person is to stop it!  After all, the response (so far) is, to be called an evildoer.  But Peter says "keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles" for a reason.  Gentiles had observed them.  Yes.  Gentiles had slandered them.  Yes.  Peter has the future in his mind, and talks about "the day of visitation" -- that's the day Christ returns.  Something the Christians do now will be, possibly, according to the purpose of it, something resulting in these very same Gentiles who are now doing one thing, doing the exact opposite and even more.

Peter doesn't explain how that would come about.  But he brings it up, not because it is out of the question, but because it what he says their keeping of their behavior excellent is for.

The next two or three paragraphs (2:13-25) are some of the most difficult in the New Testament to understand in the history of ethics.  In order to see the difficulty, compare what is said here with a paragraph like Luke 22:35-38.  There is no doubt in that paragraph, that Jesus was comparing His own instructions to the disciples for a time past, with instructions for another time which was then immediately upon them.  The instructions were mutually exclusive.

We can explore this in stages, perhaps tagged with questions.  1) Is there conceivably a situation that can arise for the Christian, in which the Christian is specifically not going to be prepared ahead of time what to do?  Mk 13:11 // Mt 13:19 // Lk 21:14.  This is such an odd question for ethics, since ethics is the study beforehand of "what to do" (Lk 21:14), and to "do what is right" (1 Peter 2:20), yet the Christian in this case is told to "make up your mind beforehand not to prepare to defend yourselves ...." in this case.

2) Is there an actual situation scripturally in which the commands which are binding upon us as Christians, must be restricted to not apply in all contexts?  Mt 5:22 is binding upon us.  But compare Galatians 3:1.  This is an ancient problem for ethicists, as evidenced, with light toward a resolution, by Solomon in Eccl 7:15-18.

Taking a clue from the previous passage, 3) are there principles that govern sword versus no sword, and accusation versus non-accusation, action versus non-action?  If so, the council of submission to "every human institution" in 2:13 need not rule out the American Revolution, for example, or whistleblowing the actions of evil bosses to others, for another.  The Supreme Court just this week had to make a ruling affirming this.  The employee was unjustly terminated, the court said, for revealing the actions of his bosses.  John the Baptist can tell Herod the king, that it is unlawful for him to have the woman he had (Mt 14:4), and not violate "submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king or ...." (2:13).  Put another way, "submit yourselves" has multiple and various applications.

The pragmatic reader might well assess the situations Peter brings up, about being submissive to one's masters, and suffering unjustly, and suffering in response to a single instance of doing right (2:18,19,20), and count up the cost versus benefit.  After bringing up the fact that Christ left us an example (of Himself) "for you to follow in His steps" (2:21), Peter gives yet another reason that is not as obvious to us if we're only thinking in aggregate quantities.  Let's draw this out....

First, Peter brings up instances of Christ doing things, not just the general category, but events one by one (2:23) ... remember, Peter personally witnessed this in standing outside.  He probably remembered the evening of Christ's arrest and being taken away more than we can fathom, but here, Peter goes through it like a news story: He was reviled, but "He did not revile in return."  While suffering, "He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting to Him who judges righteously."  And finally, what we look at as one thing, Peter allows us to see as having a multiplicity to it: consider the word "sins" (lit.) in 2:24.  It occurs twice.  He bore our "sins," plural. so that we might die "to sins" (lit.).

It's one thing to have died with Christ, and to have been raised with Him, as Paul states in Romans 6:11.  Peter looks at this is a single event in saying "by His wound you were healed" at the end of 2:24.  But before that, Peter says that He bore our "sins," plural, for a reason, that we might die to "sins."  Plural.

Any person who has been wounded, and been healed, can testify to the fact that a healed person can take part in individual actions again.  To die to "sins" is to do so, sin by sin.  Just as Christ's death was also a bearing of our "sins," we, as healed once, have been purposed to die to "sins," plural.  Instance by instance, because as persons, we are those having been healed of them.  That is, we will not die from them, and deal with them as healed persons do of what wounds us.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jn 1:43-2:12

Have you noticed the connected story from Jn 1:19 all the way through 2:12, the way it is connected with days-between markers? "The next day" (1:29; 1:35: 1:43), and finally,  2:1, "on the third day"?  The earliest days of Jesus's ministry, coming complete with a pericope from prior family life and travels in Jn 2:1,12.

These early days of discipleship confirm an informal model of entry to discipleship to the Lord.  In John, there is that time of convincing and being convinced that way may or not miss in the other three gospels.  Yes, Peter had a brother Andrew who talked to him as you would talk normally about any discovery, about finding the Messiah.  The implied "follow me" of (1:39) is merely Jesus' invitation to Andrew to come see where Jesus is staying.  The next day Philip is found by Jesus (1:45), and Jesus says to him "follow Me"; however, Philip  instead goes and talks to his brother Nathanael first, and brings Nathanael with him.

In both cases the second of the two sets of brothers are addressed individually by Jesus Himself, who says things that solidify the whole thing, the whole issue, for them.  The first, we only get one side of, Jesus telling Simon "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (1:44).  In the second case, we see how deeply what Jesus says (1:47) reaches Nathanael.  The easiest explanation is that Jesus tells Nathanael something about his prior whereabouts or thoughts or characteristic routines that only God could have revealed to him.  And Jesus, again speaking engagingly and informally, has something very important to say about Nathanael: "because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?  You will see greater things than these ... Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

If this phraseology seems totally strange, you hadn't seen a parallel with 1:32-33;  the Holy Spirit descending out of heaven and remaining upon Christ: John saw that.  Jesus predicts Nathanael will see the angels descending and ascending upon him, "the Son of Man."

Many leaders, at the outset of their ministries, promise their followers dazzling things, but no leader promised that!

In the ensuing chapter, the turning of water to wine brings together the Lord's family life and the informal discipleship that had just begun days earlier.  Much has been written about the Lord's relationship to his mother in this event.  We can see that Mary is used to directing Jesus, as any mother is, and, at the same time, leaving things to Him to do as He wishes (2:5).  The last verse in our section expresses the pivoting transition point perfectly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mk 1:35-2:5

At the beginning of Mark, regarding the activities of Jesus, so many things have to do with the Holy Spirit, and often in conflict with the powers of evil (1:8, 10, 12, 13).   We would have thought the gathering of disciples in 1:16ff would send the ministry off in a different direction, but no: the next story is not about disciples, but about an "unclean spirit" (1:23), and it coming out of a person.  The crowd was amazed at the teaching (1:22), calling it "a new teaching with authority" precisely because of Jesus commanding the unclean spirits to obey Him (1:27).

This is not inconsistent with what Jesus says in calling the first disciples.  To become "fishers of men," what better thing than to witness the Lord's work in fishing men out of the most severe of things: illnesses, and being possessed by unclean spirits?  Both of these aspects of the human condition are characterized by the helplessness of the human being.

And yet Christ's work is also addressed to the normal Galilean, to whom Christ preached the gospel of God (1:14), preached in the synagogue on Saturday, with great authority, "and not as the scribes" (1:22).  The summary in 1:39 is "preaching and casting out the demons," to such an extent that Jesus "could no longer publicly enter a city" (1:45).    

In the next section, 2:1-5, it is often ignored, what Jesus actually said, in itself, to the paralytic, after seeing the faith (2:5) of those who let down his palette after removing the roof where Jesus was "speaking the word" to a group packed inside: "Child, your sins are forgiven."

This is a pronouncement.  An act.  Not a perception or discovery by Jesus, but an act that forgives the man's sins.  We know this because of the explanation Jesus gives of it: "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (2:11).

It is important not to water this story down to the demonstration that Jesus "could" forgive sins, but to remember that He did, and why.  "Jesus, seeing their faith said to the paralytic, 'Child, your sins are forgiven.'"

Do we have an "opening" in our thinking for this?  What does the faith of those who had dug an opening in the roof have to do with this man's sins? his sins, their faith, Christ forgiving his sins in a moment in time. 

Christ saw their faith.  Is this metonymy for Christ seeing the effects of their faith?  It may not matter, since subsequently Mark shows that Jesus was also "aware in His spirit" what some of the scribes were "reasoning in their hearts about" (2:8).  In any case, Christ saw "their" faith.  Can another's faith be a reason that Christ forgives someone else's sin?  It must be so.  Here is a story from the earliest days of Christ's ministry, that has yet to be well integrated into so much theology!  Why?  Because of our presupposition that "my" forgiveness must be because of what is true of "me."  Not so.  For two reasons in this story, that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins just as He did here, and that the faith of others can be a reason that Christ forgives someone else's sin.

Acts 2:22-47

The many details in later theology notwithstanding, how would Peter's sermon have come across to his hearers the first time?  Would they be having questions about whether what the Father "poured forth that which you both see and hear" was a necessary accompaniment, or a one-time accompaniment of "the promise of the Holy Spirit" (2:33)?  Isn't it more striking, instead, that Peter addresses his audience in the tone he does ... at ... all?

Here's what Peter says about them: 1.  "men of Israel" (22); 2.  "this Man ... you nailed to a cross by the hands of men without the Law and put Him to death (23); "whom you crucified" (36).

Here's what Peter says to them: 1.  "Brethren" (29); 2.  "repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself"; (38-39).

Here's what happened: "those who had received his word were baptized, and that day there were added about three thousand souls" (41).

As an original hearer, to be stricken by what Peter said about you, and amazed that "the promise is for you ..." despite what Peter said about you is to go beyond academic interest in what is necessary, to what is necessary for the soul.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Gal 1:18-2:10

If you are convinced that your dear friends reading your letter are deserting God, and that you are the one God used to introduce them to Himself, how would you write to them?

We saw that Paul faces the desertion squarely, by setting it against what Paul had originally pointed out for them to remember, "what you received" (1:9).  They didn't have chapter-and-verse of Romans.  Probably Galatians was way before Romans, way before everything else in the New Testament.  He wanted them to remember "what we have preached to you" (1:8).

Why should they do that?  Because "the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man" (1:11).  Paul was taking the position that they could benefit from what they already knew about him, and the further things he was explaining: "I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:12).

In 1:18 Paul is continuing to support for 1:12.  Where did he get what he had taught the Galatians?  Did Paul get what he said, from the apostles?  In chapter 2, Paul continues to give his support for 1:12, by his history, how he went to Jerusalem, with Barnabas and Titus, submitting "the gospel which I preach ... in private, those who were of reputation" (2:2).

There was another encounter after that, besides that private meeting, between Paul and  "false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage"  (2:4).  What was the type of bondage Paul was talking about?  We see the subject in the phrase "compelled to be circumcised" (2:3).  Paul uses the phrase without prior setup because it was a well-known point of contention with those he had priorly mentioned among the Galatians who were disturbing them and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ (1:6).  So they were very aware of it, without Paul having to set up the subject.  It was important for the Galatians to know that the issue between himself and "false brethren" to whom Paul "did not yield in subject to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you" (2:5), had already been resolved then, among "those who were of high reputation" (2:6), including James and Cephas ... and Paul would add, against those who note reputations as a matter of course, "(what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)" (2:6).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mt 2:7-3:6

The story of the birth of Christ that Matthew began in chapter 1 continues.  He began with the events of it in 1:18, but had begun with the significance of it back in 1:1!  And so it's not wrong to allow him to speak about the significance of events along the way.  It's not cheating; it's not being biased.  Both words in 1:1, "Jesus" and "Messiah" describe things that are true.  Saying that one of them is "true," and the other one is "merely an interpretation," means only that the one saying this wants to set up a predisposition to question the second, not the first.

Matthew has no problem giving interpretations along the way, even to the level of divine intentions for actions!  When Joseph "took the Child and His mother ... and left for Egypt," (2:14), Matthew comments, this was "to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet" (2:15)!!  How did Matthew know God's intentions?  He was not saying that Joseph was trying to fulfill the prophet's words, any more than he was saying Herod (2:16) was trying to fulfill Jeremiah's words (2:17).

Not only does Matthew know (and assert) that the significances of these events include that God was doing so to fulfill specific words _in_ the prophets, but, in 2:23, Matthew is so bold as to say that God was intending, by Jesus living "in a city called Nazareth," (2:23), "to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets."  In this case, Matthew is not quoting any of them!  This has caused scholars fits!  Mostly, because they don't have a category for Matthew telling us something that God intended to be a fulfillment of what came "through the prophets," i.e., taking the prophets as a whole.  The "double-meaning"-ness of "Nazarene" also gives us fits.  It's an odd construct for saying someone is from a city, yet it is not the Greek construct for the OT word "Nazirite," which was a particular kind of vow-taker.  Matthew is accused of making a mistake in his spelling  (by those who want him to use footnotes about a Nazirite), and of making a mistake in his understanding (by those who want him to use footnoes about a city) ... as if Matthew, who displays to us God's intentions behind a particular verse, could not be inspired to tell us God's intentions to talk about His Son through a general conclusion from His prophets.  What is easier, to show that Hosea refers to the Messiah in Ho 11:1, or to show that the prophets taken as a whole refer to the Messiah?  The latter.  Therefore the latter should be accepted, since we allow the former.  Are we ready, then, to hear Matthew describe what happened, _and_ learn from him, the significance God gives to what happened?  If so, we are ready for the next chapter.

Whatever the time is, whether "the kingdom of God has come near" (3:2 lit.), or not, sin does not fit at all with "the way of the Lord" (3:3).  It is always the obligation of the one having sinned to repent of the sin.  But here, John the Baptist does not preach "repent, for you've sinned," but "repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  This is a different thing.

It is too common to interpret 3:2 in a very crass way, as if the nearness of the judge is the reason to change to what the judge wants us to do.  This may be true in high school playgrounds, but that is NOT John's point.  Whatever else John's sinful hearers were doing sinfully, their sensitivity to the kingdom of God was also in line with that sinfulness.  But to be misaligned to the kingdom of God itself is the gravest disaster upon its arriving, thus making repentance toward that fact very urgent, because it has come near.  The Kingdom of God, when God would come and "set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed" (Dn 2:44), was prophesied, and John had announced that it has come near.  The nearness of that is far-reaching, going way beyond incomplete fixings of smaller things due to a temporary visit.  When God's kingdom comes, it is permanently established: "it will itself endure forever" (Dn 2:44).

1 Tim 1:18-2:15

One of the benefits of a translation that stays close to the original in terms of similar diction for similar diction is notable in this letter.  If we don't know the synonymy of law, instruction, command, and teaching behind the original "Torah" when we hear those words  in chapters 1 and 2 of our letter, we won't see, in the English, some of the point the original author was able to convey to the reader originally.

In order to understand "this command I entrust to you," in 1 Tim 1:18, we'll need to notice both the "I have been entrusted" that Paul says of himself in 1:11, the teaching about "law"and "command"in 1:8,9, and "the goal of our command" in 1:5, and "a trustworthy statement, deserving of full acceptance" in 1:15.

In biblical culture there was a basic unity between teaching and commandment that we have divided up, in the West.  It hampers our understanding of some basic Semitic-type sentences, like 1 Jn 1:8, where John says "a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you."  In English, we don't say that commandments are true or false, but at the most "valid or invalid," perhaps, or"in force or not."

So in our verse, 1:18, "this command I entrust to you," when we ask "which command?"  we don't think it could mean "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."  Paul's turnover to Timothy is the command he was entrusted with, "our instruction."

Paul says "the goal of our instruction" is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1:5), and that certainly is a goal for the reader Timothy, and a goal for "the trustworthy statement" that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."  Let's see if that pans out in the subsequent words.  In 1:19, Paul says "keeping faith and a good conscience."  That certainly fits with the means Paul mentioned to his goal earlier: the same thing!  a good concience and (sincere) faith.  If Timothy will have been entrusted with that "command," that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," then he gets what gives us a good conscience, our salvation from our sins, and a sincere faith, our trust in the one who saved us.

And looking at 1 Tim 1 that way, as the compendium of the teaching Paul wishes to entrust to Timothy, then chapter 2 becomes the beginning of the standard "practical" section, as in Paul's Romans and Ephesians, the "Romans 12" if you will, the Eph 4.

By way of application, now, having reminded Timothy the big picture, Paul gets particular and, as is fitting for personal communication, personal.  "I urge ... therefore I want ... but I do not allow" (2:1,8,12). Just as we would tend to miss the identification of command and teaching in chapter 1, we might tend to not have a category for this kind of ethical exhortation by Paul in chapter 2.

In the West we have tended to treat the Bible like a single textbook of truths plus a single textbook of rules. The underlying assumption behind so many denominational differences is that other people have not figured out what rules are "the ones," surprisingly, what Paul would call "our commandment" in 1:5, "this command I entrust to you," 1:18.   And so we have trouble distinguishing levels of appertainance among rules.  We hear, for example, of turning the other cheek, and assume that's one of "the ones," and this leads some people to conclude that never can a Christian be a soldier, or "lend, expecting no return," and conclude never can a Christian be a banker.  In the same way, we don't allow Paul the latitude to say "I urge ... I want ... I do not allow."  We can't have that!  We have to have a rule be valid for every situation, or not.  And we certainly CAN"T have any humorous aspect intrude on our list-making: we can't have any hint of humor in 2:12-15.  Oops!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lk 1:39-56

There's lots to read and discuss on the things Mary and Elizabeth had in common as relatives (1:36) that make it easier to see what they had in common spiritually as well, and how various things happen all the time among people and their relatives, that don't happen among people who are not our kin.

However, it is pretty explicitly told that the things Elizabeth were having in common at this visit (1:39-56) are not the run-of-the-mill kind of things!  How did Elizabeth know that Mary "believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord" (1:45)?  How did Mary become someone who sums up so eloquently the "prophetic perfect" tenses in what she says in 1:51-55, the prophetic idea, that what will happen, to the prophet, is written down to already have happened?!  God "has done" ... "has scattered" ... "has brought down" ... "has exalted" ... "has filled" ... "sent away" ... "has given help" ... (51-54), and all "in remembrance of His mercy." -- already! 

But is this all?  Is this just "oh, isn't it great that Mary can speak like so many of the Psalms, and prophets?"  and we leave it at that?  Or, has, really, this, ... really ... all happened?  We might be the ones not having our timing fully functional, and God, the prophets, the psalmists, and ... Mary!  have the sense of time correct!  Were Jesus and John the Baptist, as we have seen in Mk 1:15 and Mt 3:2 using a "turn of phrase" in announcing that the kingdom of God "has come near"-- another one of those tenses that are like Mary's here!? 

It's not a turn of phrase.  A similar thing strikes the reader in Jn 3 where according to 3:18, "he who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed  ...."  Before we cry "unfair" or maybe even just "paradox" ... let's apply the corrective as if it were a math problem we got wrong.  We write down "God will do mighty deeds with His arm" and we are corrected: no, " _has done_...."  We write down "God will scatter the proud" and we are corrected: no, "has scattered" ... ... "he who does not believe will be judged" ... no, "has been judged."   It's a good corrective!  Whose time zone are we _really_ in?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rm 1:28-2:24

Claiming to have fresh light to shed on Romans is like our planet claiming to have fresh light to shed on the sun.  May the Lord's Word shed its light more fully on you and me!

In his descriptions of sin, Paul was not bound by Victorian taste, but by explicit candor, as we have just seen.  Beginning in 1:28 Paul begins summarizing what he has been explaining concerning "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (1:18).  Cause-and-effect dominates the previous section: "... and their foolish heart was darkened .... (1:21), "and receiving in their own persons ... (1:27)."  But the cause-and-effect was governed and presided over by the judicial actions by God: "God gave them over ... (1:24, 1:26, 1:28)."  So the old proverb that evil brings its own punishment has to be modified: in specific ways, God gives them over to it.

So the summary Paul gives in 1:28 of the course of evil is that the behaviors of 1:29ff are the effects of "a depraved mind," (1:28), to which God gave them in response to their not seeing fit to have God in knowledge "any longer" (1:28).  Any longer?  Paul's critique of sin needs to be looked at more carefully here!  We can't just skip to the lists!  Sin is not analyzed completely simply by reading lists!   Paul's explanation is that the behavior is caused by the depraved mind that God gave them over to.  "Just as they did not see fit to have God in knowledge any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind" (1:28).  The theme of a decline from original knowledge started back in 1:18, in the indictment of "men who suppress the truth." 

The chapter indeed ends without Paul changing from his explanation, that the behavior and their minds are related as effect and cause, and the actions of God are involved in the explanation.  This has something to say toward atheism, which we flatteringly and often take as a valid starting point by  atheists, starting our apologetics toward them from there, as if atheism is merely a starting point.   What might Paul say instead?  He would talk as here, that an atheist "did not see fit to have God in knowledge."  That's not ignorance.  That's expulsion of knowledge.  At the least we should be aware of possible signs of the expulsion of prior knowledge.

It is because we are well acquainted with sin, we tend to gloss over this idea of decline from a previous better condition, and of the idea of expulsion of knowledge.  Plus, armed with psychological stories and experiences of how people do this all the time, we are numbed by familiarity: familiarity with the idea that people can push knowledge out of their minds.  But have you ever thought about what kind of thing it is to "not see fit to have" an item of knowledge?  It is not just to ignore something.  It is to shove it out of your existence, with pride!  To "not see fit to have" is to consider it unworthy of having.  To promulgate this to others, you'd have to write a chapter in the sinner's how-to manual, on getting rid of God from your mind because He doesn't deserve to be in it ... and approving -- i.e., putting right in the middle of your mind (!), a set of those people who are approved -- which is those who practice sin (1:32)!  Hearty approval of these replacements is the item of knowledge that replaces having God in your mind.

Does Paul conclude simply that the depraved mind approves of all those who "practice such things" that "are worthy of death" (1:32)?  No.  Sinners approve of other sinners, but not of every other sinner.  Murderers approve of some other murderers, but murder others as well.  The approval is extremely vacuous.  And that's how Paul goes on, supplying the conclusion from the implied question, "well then, are we just a big happy self-congratulating group of people who all deserve death but are patting each other on the back all the way to it?"  No.

The fact that men "did not see fit to ..." that Paul mentioned earlier, that attitude they had toward God, also becomes a judgment used against other men.  There are plenty of other men that they did not see as fit.  Paul goes on to describe the implications of that.  There are implications of the fact that you, who "do the same," (1:32), "you judge another" (2:1): namely,  how not seeing fit to have God in knowledge leads you to judging another.

In chapter 2, Paul in speaking about the judgment and justice of God is likely to be misunderstood because of two presuppositions that dog us: first, our comparative standards by which we judge others as pretty bad, and second, those same comparisons by which we judge some, and often ourselves, as pretty good.  Paul addresses the first idea in 2:1-8.

Is Paul using an ad hominem argument here in 2:1ff, something like "you have no business judging, being who you are?"  If that were true, it  would take the force away from the words "the same things," and turn it into "similar things."  No.  This is not an ad hominem argument.  Rather, Paul is talking about the self-reflexive nature of judging others, that it is ipso facto judging yourself for the same thing.  Not that your judgment of others is invalid, but that its fingers point to you, doer of the same.  Paul is not making an ad hominem that they have no right to judge, but extends the judgment they make about others, to apply also to themselves.  Justice has to be blind toward, i.e. impartial toward,  who it is that's it's judging.  2:1 is about having no excuse, which includes no excuse of the kind "I stole, but I didn't commit adultery."  In speaking precisely here, Paul is rather saying that God's judgment is meted out precisely "according to the truth" (2:2 lit.), that is, according to the existence of the offense wherever it is.  "There is no partiality with God" (2:12).   Therefore since you "practice the same things" as an individual whom you are judging for a sin or sins, you ipso facto are judging yourself for practicing the same things.

This is further elaborated upon in 2:3.  Not only do you condemn yourself, but the judgment of God is against you.  Both you and God cannot be inconsistent.  God isn't inconsistent  But in 2:1, you are inconsistent without excuse: you cannot have justice fall another and not on "you, who judge" when it's the same thing.  If you stole, but didn't commit adultery, it's "the same things."

The stubbornness and unrepentant heart of this judge, Paul takes as a given in 2:4.  Why?  Because the judge has discovered how to righteously  judge others for sins that he or she does not do?  No.  The dividing up of sins of judge and those judged has not worked!  God looks at those sins as "the same things!"  What's stubborn is rather, to judge others for "the same things" (2:1) that you the judge actually do.  It is the sameness of the sins that makes the judge stubborn (as if the justice won't be going to his own self for them as well as others), and the sameness of the sins that makes the judge unrepentant, because of ongoing doing of them himself.

So what then of the argument that the judge doesn't do those sins?  The judge's imagined distinction vanishes, because Paul says they are "the same things."  This is Paul's way of saying what James says in Jm 2:8-11, and the Lord in Matthew 5:21ff, especially Mt 5:21-26.  They are "the same things."

In the contemporary Christian world, we have denied Romans 2 in at least the following way.

We think of ourselves as having a partial God, who has partiality toward us; when we judge another, not believing that God's judgment is according to truth against "those who practice such things" (2:2) without qualification.  The surprise in Paul's words are that "you who judge practice the same things"  (2:1).  "You who judge," when you fancy that you practice other, or lesser things, or don't practice any sins at all!  In effect, the judge substitutes a  "some" into 2:6, as if Paul had said God will render to _some_ men according to their deeds, but not to you who judge ... or a "some" into 2:6, as if Paul had said God will render to every man according to _some_ of his deeds ....  but not to all of yours the judge. When we judge, Paul exposes us as being practicers of "the same things," in that in which we judge another, so that argument's out. Every man is one of the "some" who practice such things, without excuse whenever he passes judgment upon another. 

It's very odd, isn't it, how often the non-Christian under judgment by someone notices the air of the judge toward them, as one of having a God, but misrepresenting Him as having partiality.  The standard "step 2" of evangelism, trying to show that "you are a sinner," has got to go back to a "we," and a genuine belief in Romans 2:6.  Let's not be afraid to look at Romans together.  Even if we discover that we have not lately genuinely believed Romans 2:6, or even ever really believed it. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

1 Peter 1:22-2:10

Peter (and the New Testament in general) often go from what is true, to what our obligations are.  Even when what is true about believers turns out to be things "into which angels long to look" (1:12), Peter goes on to teach what we should be doing (1:13ff), all the while couching it not just in what is already true, but what will be true (1:13).

In this passage (1:22ff.), Peter is going further, based on a marker along the way of doing what we should be doing.  He says "you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren .... (1:22).  Since you've done A for B, go ahead and do B! ... "fervently love one another from the heart."  It certainly would make sense to go on.  The added reason he gives for doing this, 1:23-25, doesn't sound like an added reason.  Perhaps, unless you've been in a ministry.

All that training about what is true often goes into someone in the ministry.  And all kinds of purification of soul.  Often, the train slows down at that point, or stops.  What use is my theology here or now?  My fightings with self and sin?  Peter gives something of an answer here.

1.  Something has happened to you.  The past is not a collection of your stuff alone.  Everything talked about in 1:23 is something that has happened to you, and comes to you from the world of what is "living and abiding," not the things in 1:24, which go through the cycle of death.  So, behind your stuff, is what was done to you, and it is from what is "living and abiding."

2.  The past can't be changed.  Today's love for the brethren isn't necessarily the same as tomorrow's.  But "the word which was preached to you" endures forever, and it was already preached to you.  It's too late! Love one another from the heart, because it's too late to do anything about the foundation for it, which has already happened!

Going on to 1 Peter 2, Peter is continuing this argument about why to go forward.

3.  In 2:1-3 the argument is stated conclusion-first.  But first, let's mention a possible background assumption of the writer about what he could be addressing in his readers.  What often happens among Christian workers, and Christians in general?  They pause, because they wish that things were the case over here, over there.  Peter is taking this into his sights, and about to tell them ... wish for ... this!  But not out of the clear blue sky, because those who are tired often need something to get them to wish for this.  They know what to wish for, but from what starting point to do so, they don't see.

"Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word."  So it's back to the foundation of 1:23, that they have been born of an "imperishable."  Back to a factual foundation outside of us.

Peter is bringing them to two things they may have not kept in mind.  To God, they're not old and gray, grizzled, harried, old troupers that have been around the block umpteen times.  They're newborns!  So, like newborns, they get to have the basics!  Lots of experienced people feel guilty for wanting the basics!  Simple things in the Bible, speaking theologically.  Or physically, like sleep!  Just because you're an "older" Christian, doesn't mean you can't be like a newborn babe right now! Being like a newborn babe is correct to be.

The second thing is that you get to tend to yourself too.  The common refrain nowadays, that "it's not about me," is not a universal.  Peter says it's OK, to do something for you yourself, "that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (2:2).  It's OK for a big tree to grow.

But why should I do the growth routine?  Because God is growing you already, simultaneously as you are even considering it!  "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood ..." (2:5).

The words give a twin picture of you.  One picture is a person inside a house.  The other picture is the house, which is being built.  You are similtaneously the one in the house, AND the house being built up!  Look, the third floor just went up!  Wait till you see the next one, and the goal of this amazing spiritual house!  So, the architect is waiting to talk to you! He, Christ, also has that quality about Him: He is both "a living stone" and the Person "rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God" (2:4).

Finally, there may be a weariness about having to invent things that will work.  The Christian is, luckily ( ;) ), often called to do things without knowing that they will work, or how!  Have you ever thought about the OT priesthood that way?  All that work, why?  What good was it?  How did it get it done?  They had no idea, they were just told that God wanted it done that way.  Priesthood!  Freedom from having to know why everything works!

Do we know what the "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (2:5) will be?  No.  W'ere gonna be like priests have always been!

But we won't be disappointed, and "those who disbelieve" (2:7) will be appointed to a stumbling by the same stone.  It is an instance of something that goes on apart from us.  The work of the stone is both toward us, and toward those who disbelieve, but it is the work of the stone.  That's how Peter ends this section, by teaching about how the things that are true of us are because of what has been done to us: you "have received mercy" though previously you hadn't.  "You are the people of God,"  but once were "not a people."  Someone could wonder whether it's reversible, but Peter says that the direction it took, had a purpose, "so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (2:9).  How does that help?  Well, let's think about that for a second.  Was the reason you became the second, from the first, in order to get something excellent out of you?  No, the very reason you became the second, from being the first, was a purpose connected with the excellence of God who did this to you.  As stated here, God didn't do it, to gain some excellence from you, but, as Peter describes it, actions regarding His excellence would occur.   Even in football, the plays are done, in order to bring glory to the game, not the game done, in order to bring glory to the plays. Peter says those who called, are called in order to proclaim the excellence of "Him who has called you."  So of course, in that case, it is Multiple Excellence.  "Excellencies." 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jn 1:24-42

This whole section is problematic for those who wish to assign John's gospel a second-class, non-primary-source status because of its advanced theological discourse.  Here, in this section, it puts down some new information about John the Baptist's ministry, giving us a complementary view of John the Baptist to that of the Synoptics (Mt, Mk, Lk).

In the next section, 1:35ff., there is an earlier incident about the meeting of Jesus, Andrew, and Peter than anything the Synoptics have.  It makes sense of what the Synoptics have put down in their gospels, tying up the loose ends of why these two brothers dropped their nets and followed Jesus there.  It was because of what heppened prior, which ... John records!

Now as to content.  the whole dialog between John the Baptist and those who had been sent from the Pharisees is extremely poignant and full of implications.  "The Prophet" (1:21) refers to the individual in Dt 18:15.  "Elijah" refers to Malachi 4:5.

We already know something about John the Baptist, from the gospel writer John's depiction in 1:6-8.  In this section, John titles this depiction "the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem ...." (1:19).  The irony here should not be missed.

1.  The "testimony of John" is going to be to Jesus.  What do the priests and Levites ask him about?  About himself.  They want John the Baptist to testify about himself.  In view of later discussions about such a thing, Jn 5:30-47 and 8:12-20, we are getting a preview of what is to come in much more detail later, about the kinds of disputes the "priests and Levites" had with Jesus as well.  Here we see what kind of argument was being angled for.

2.  John the Baptist's answer to their initial question deflated it.  To our ears, we say "whoaaa?" to their question "are you Elijah?"  but because of Malachi 4:5, the Pharisees are asking the question in shorthand form.  In longer form, the kind we would need, it is something like this: given that Malachi predicted someone coming very much like Elijah in the future, and that John the Baptist was very much like Elijah, is John the Baptist claiming he is the immediate precursor to "the great and terrible day of the Lord" (Mal 4:5)? In the last third of the 20th Century, evangelicalism was often accused of being the realm of "date setters!"  Similarly here.  Is John the Baptist doing some date setting?

The truth is very close to this, isn't it?  If we gather up all the descriptions of John the Baptist, he is very like Elijah.  If we only take one of his sentences, "repent, for the kingdom of God has come near" (Mt 3:2), it sounds like a kind of date setting.  And what about Mt 11:14, which will come later, which is Jesus' assessment of the question?  So why does John the Baptist answer "no?"  We already know from the prologue that the Light "was in the world" (1:10).

Number 1 reason for his answer "no," in 1:21 is they asked the question too soon!  The Light "was in the world" (1:10), but John hadn't identified Him yet!  The person whom God Himself "sent" (1:6), had not gotten to the point yet of fully understanding about himself.  This is the irony of John's answer to the Pharisees.  They assumed that someone doing religious things is doing so out of a foundation based upon their own self.  But John's whole purpose, which we already know from reading it in 1:8, was to testify to someone else.  When you're not about yourself, then critiques that assume you are, will miss the mark.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mk 1:14-34

(We began this sequence with Mark in the Jan 1, 2015 blog)

The extraordinary time-stamp of 1:14 for Jesus coming into Galilee needs to be more noticed.  Was there a reason Mark places this note, that John was taken into custody, here?

Certainly, John announced that "One is coming" (1:7) before he was taken into custody.  And now, Jesus "came into Galilee" (1:14).  The Lord was coming _from_ Nazareth in Galilee (1:9) when he was baptized by John.  Now, he comes into Galilee, from "the wilderness" (1:12).  We're prepared by Mark for dramatic activity, but we're not prepared for "the kingdom of God has come near" (lit. 1:15).  That fact is just as much a fact as "John the baptist appeared " in 1:4.  Mark is a gospel of action, many have said.  They all ought to say therefore that the Lord enters into Galilee deliberately and actively, and urgently.  So has the kingdom.   "The kingdom of God has come near" -- not cyclically, or as it always seem to wanna do, or giving you the option of getting close to it or not -- none of that stuff! -- But the kingdom of God has come near already!

But we skipped a phrase: "the time is fulfilled" (1:14).  Jesus, not Mark, saying this, takes the reader right back to 1:2, where John had talked about God's way being prepared; that is, God's way of entrance!  That's the time that is fulfilled.  It all ties together.  John exalting Jesus as baptizing with the Holy Spirit.  After Mark had introduced him as someone who said "make ready the way of the Lord," in Isaiah 40:3, "clear the way for [the Lord's name here] in the wilderness," and then John is now in custody, what's the next expected thing?  What John prepared for, to arrive.  When Jesus says "the kingdom of God has arrived" we conclude that John prepared the way of the Lord, had made His paths straight, and now Jesus says the kingdom of God has arrived.

So what we have is Mark, writing to his readers after the Resurrection of Jesus, about Jesus's arrival, saying in the very first thing he records to us that Jesus said, that the kingdom of God has arrived.  OK, we got that.  Is it information only!  FYI?  Far from it!  "Repent, and believe in the gospel."  Repent, and believe in the good news.

Just as was said Jan 1 about 1:4, not to read our own definitions into Mark's words, we should do the same with 1:14.  Not "cut that stuff out and believe the gospel" -- that's the way we moderns hear the word "repent" -- but, putting ourselves into the situation back then -- urgently go into a change-up of heart about everything concerning the arrival of the kingdom of God, indeed, of God Himself ... and ... (which we'll get to in a moment).

Get the cobwebs out of your heads and get to really hearing that God's kingdom has arrived, whatever that implies, most all of which you could not know!   AND, believe the gospel -- the good news!

The surprise is "believe the good news."  Jesus doesn't say "good news for some."  He's not saying "sleeper cells of the righteous, you know who you are, it's time to come forth" -- the Lord isn't saying "here's your expected news, sleepers, and your codes" -- but telling those who He is preaching to, indiscrminately, to "believe the good news," and it is good news that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived.  He's not calling sleeper cells; the Good News is for everyone hearing Him.

So the follow-on from John's ministry and from the prophecy is unmistakable.  Let's go on.  Was it a preaching-only ministry?  No.  In the next section (1:16-20) Jesus sees two fishermen, and, as if He know everything about their future from the beginning, says "follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (1:17).    In our day, knowing the subsequent Christian movement, we read into this our own conception of entry into the movement, but to Andrew and Simon, they had "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel" and this personal invitation.  (By the way, in the spirit of clearing our own cobwebs, let's not turn the Lord's summons to Peter and Andrew into a popular 21st century "follow Me forever" category.  He didn't say that!  Besides, that would contradict what Jesus actually said: if they had to follow Him forever, in order to become fishers of men, then the condition would never be fulfilled in time.  It is to those days with them that Jesus refers.)

Two things would stick out to Andrew and Simon.  Jesus preaching the arrival of the kingdom of God, and the summons to follow ... God?  That's not how the Lord stated it, is it?  How is it that the one who announces that the kingdom of God has arrived and the time is fulfilled, is saying to individuals, "follow Me"?  That would be a very pronounced surprise.   The second, "and I will make you become fishers of men" is a promise.  It is a promise to two brothers.  It is a promise by Jesus.  It addresses not only what they would be doing in the future, but who they would be in the future.

Everything in the rest of our section points to the huge significance of the Lord's activity.  The story of the man with an "unclean spirit" turns out to be like something out of a movie, with the "unclean spirit" speaking to Jesus in the middle of the event.  The rest of the healings are unaccompanied by purpose-clauses.  The Lord healed, but not as a man amassing a name for Himself might do.  In fact, "who He was" was to be kept back, not because they said what was false about Him, but "because they knew who He was" (1:34).  This is a very famous central issue for Mark, and has been discussed by thousands of essays and periodicals and books.  Who Jesus was, became for many authors talking about Mark's appreach ... "the Messianic Secret."

The reaction of the crowds at the time is not just to Jesus' actions, because they reacted to His teaching as something very different, from what they were used to (1:22; 1:27).  Their reaction was not as full as that of the unclean spirit, who had fuller knowledge (1:24), but no right to speak!  That kind of evil has one response from Jesus: rebuke, and out!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Acts 2:1-21

The make-up of the apostles having been Peter's concern, we would have expected an extrapolation from that, in this chapter.  But no: Luke looks at the beginning group of all of Christianity, gathered together then, in one place.  But it's now the "not many days from now" of 1:5, and it happens to be in the morning (1:15).  In something reminiscent of the difference between the loaves and fish, versus the feeding of the thousands, something similar is about to happen in Acts.  Did the disciples anticipate the change in the magnitude of the scope?  Did they think that they alone were going to be recipients of the Holy Spirit, or that the time coming would be a similar time to the last few years, spreading out as a small group, teaching two by two, with power?

Jesus had said they would receive power (1:8); He had said "you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (1:5).  But He didn't say it was going to be only them.  To spread twelve "to the remotest part of the earth" would be to have a very isolated group, if it were going to be twelve.

But at Pentecost, the world of "Jews and proselytes" (2:10) was represented.  The remotest known part of the earth was within earshot of them.  God had arranged it for the world to hear the witnesses to His Son, but how were they actually going to hear?  Were they polled beforehand, to see if they had extra time for another meeting?  What the disciples might have found daunting, God, having concern for the uttermost parts the world, ministered to the world's representatives, as only God could have done.

These gathered could not have known the various languages, at least a dozen, in a dozen years, but in the space of one day, representatives of the world who speak these languages, heard Christ's witnesses speaking them, saying things about "the mighty deeds of God" (2:11).

Here, before there were church councils, disputes about the gospel, imposters within the church, things eventually that all would come about -- God started the witnesses to Christ on the right track, speaking of the mighty deeds of God in the hearing of representatives of the world.  And Peter preached how it was prophesied in "what was spoken through the prophet" (2:16).  They were prophesying.  And it was prophesied, that they would.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Gal 1:1-17

Paul could very well introduce a category of explanation that we very often ignore, in the first verse of this letter: "not through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father."  Christ, and God, doing things -- on their own.  Not just placeholding explanations for what humans do.

This certainly is a difference between God and idols.  Idols are described as bringing victories to armies, or the cause of prosperity of a city -- "great is Artemis of the Ephesians" -- but it is an ascription.  Christianity, and Paul here, assert that God does things: He's not just the invisible explanation for what human beings credit him with.

"Jesus Christ and God the Father" did something, with the result that Paul is something ... an apostle.  What Jesus Christ and God the Father did, was send Paul, and the result is both that he is an apostle, but also ... that he got sent!  If that is already done, certainly the Galatians can take 1:3 as more than well-wishing.

It all comes from this category of explanation!  A God who can do things, can actually send "grace to you and peace from God."  Our "best wishes" may not come into existence, but with Paul calling them down from God upon the Galatians it is one and the same, the wishing of it, and the pronouncement of it to be the case.

It comes from the same kind of thinking that prompts Paul in another letter to tell the Philippians, "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Ph 1:6). There we notice its certainty because it is stated so, in the indicative, but here, as a blessing Paul calls down ... do we have the temerity to say it is only a casual well-wishing on the level of "good luck" or "stay well!"?  I hope not.

To punctuate the connection between God having done things and God as doing things in the future, as we read, we hear that "the Lord Jesus Christ" did something -- gave Himself for our sins, in order to do something else for us -- rescue us from this present evil age."

OK, Christ gave Himself for our sins.  What was the purpose of that?  Is He done now, and the ensuing outcome just completely our doing?  No, the next thing was "so that He might rescue us from this present evil age"  -- whether we conceive of this as Christ doing so by one and the same act, or whether the rescue from "this present evil age" is subsequent -- it is still Christ doing it, not something that is ours to complete.  And Paul sees and assigns glory to God for ever, for this.

We have to go on to 1:6ff in order to understand better why Paul began this way, about God being the One who sent him, and his being sent through Jesus Christ.  He will explain that part of his argument, but what is the problem?  The problem is the quick desertion going on, by the Galatians, of God!

In all the arguments about the nature of salvation we've heard, it is good to realize that so many of them define the severity of the consequences of deserting God, but do not say what deserting God is!  Isn't Galatians, to the extent that it explains what the Galatian churches were doing, an answer to that question?  It must be, since Paul says they "are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ" (1:6). At the least, what the Galatians were doing is truly deserting God, however more other kinds of desertion of Him there are.  Therefore it should very much grab our attention.

To desert  for "a different gospel" is to desert God. Paul has already reminded them of something we know he considers "of first importance" in the gospel, that Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:1ff).  He mentions it here as "Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for our sins," and we might be correct to  guess that the sentence might have a hint at Paul's corrective, that he couldn't wait to apply to their reading: "so that He might rescue us from this present evil age."  This "so that" part -- could Paul be emphasizing it so early in his letter, so urgently, because it is such an important part of the cure to the desertion?  I think so.  This phrase suggests that the desertion to the different gospel was to the idea that Christ gave Himself for our sins, so that _something else_ would go on and rescue us from this present evil age, and Paul is saying that's a different gospel.  The true gospel, which they were "so quickly deserting" (1:6), would be that "Christ gave Himself for our sins, so that _He_ might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (1:4)."

So far this must just be a guess, because Paul does not come out here and say what the distortion (1:7) is.  But we can see if the guess has support by reading the rest of the letter.  It fits the idea of deserting God, because they are deserting God's will for the purpose of Christ giving Himself. 

The Galatians are being disturbed by some who "want to distort the gospel of Christ" (1:7).  That's another whole category than the making of a mistake.  To want to distort the gospel of Christ is not the same at all as making a mistake. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Mt 1:1-2:6

For a book to start like this -- the geneology, I'm referring to -- is the bane of the  interested child in many, many homes.  I still have the Bible which was in my home when I was learning to read, and still remember the times where I just couldn't get past the geneologies.  If nothing else, we should draw from this that I did not have much stamina so long ago; so as to better put up with blogs that are not complete sets, I hereby request.  I'm leaning on, not blaming, the geneologies here.

But what a geneology for the initiated!  The geneology of the Messiah!  And you can't get more official than an inspired document!  Neither is the geneology boring whatsoever.  The grand switch away from Joseph in 1:16, from the lists of those who fathered, to that phrase "the husband of Mary," is there in the Greek too, with that female pronoun for "by whom" Jesus was born.

But it is a geneology of the humbling of the reader too, the reader of Israel who knows about the Tamar story (1:3; Gen 38), the Ruth story, the Jesse story, the Bathsheba story, the Jeconiah story, the deportation story.  All these ancestors, but not a list of heroes, not like the king lists children used to memorize in England, in order to say something proud about each one.  True son of David and Abraham, yes.  But not a crescendo, of the kind we're used to, at least, of human glory to human glory.  And even if it was, the human fathering stops at Joseph.

So much then is the humiliation in the reader, then, a fitting preparatory humbling, to prefigure what ensues: the King of the people is born in a place where the current king of the people was going to be troubled to hear it, along with the people (2:3).  The current king was made king by an outside nation, Rome.  Aptly, Jesus will be honored by representatives of an outside nation, the oddest kind -- the among-Daniel wisemen kind, the kind that the then-king wanted to murder, but Daniel saved them -- Jesus will be honored from that same area as Daniel saved their perhaps-ancestors and guild, from that area that Matthew had mentioned in the geneology just previous, Babylon!  Jesus, with a name meaning God saves, will save people, but from their sins (1:21)!  And these astrologers, uncharacteristically actually were correctly guided by a star ... from God, at least part of the way, in the story so far. The nation was not just unprepared under Herod, but Herod himself was prepared against,  we will see ... he was anti-prepared, after he became knowledgeable about the possibility of the Messiah born (2:5).  Nevertheless, Christ was honored as God's born king by those God chose to honor Him with.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

1 Tim 1:1-17

The idealist in us wants to have it that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, dealt with the biggest and most significant issues and problems, like a CEO, among the churches.  We read here that Paul was not so, and dealt with details and the messies.  But first, look at the interesting salutation of this letter.

"According to the command of God our Savior" sticks out as somewhat unique; of all Paul's letters, only Titus has something similar.  If there is any difference between a phrase like that, and something from the other salutations like "by the will of God," it adds sequence to the job.  Paul, regarding his apostleship, was apostle, by being "called" (Rm, 1Cor); by "the will of God" (2 Cor, Eph, Col, 2Tim); "through Jesus Christ and God the Father" (Gal); Titus expands (1:3), saying "entrusted."

But "according to" allows for a sequence of things, not just a one-time event.  The gospels describe a narrative, a sequence of events, not just one.  The sequence is "according to" their respective writers.  Possibly one of the greatest "according to" sequences is in Romans 8:4, that we walk not "according to" the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  Neither God's gifts, nor God's jobs, are given by someone who runs off.

Here in this supposedly doctrinally paucous letter, we have, in a phrase, an answer to everyone who has started a job could well ask: does God give us jobs and then it's all on us?  No, the job is a sequence of events, not just an event.  Paul, in the other words that he used about his apostleship, didn't give out that aspect that comes out here.

No paucity in this chapter!  Not only is he dealing with people who have really veered off (1:4) into "strange doctrines," but he deals with them while giving us interesting plus-insights to one of his biggest themes in other letters.  He had said, way back, in Romans 7, that we died to the Law.   Here, he goes bazookas and says "the Law is good ... but ... law is not made for a righteous person" (1:8)!  In the same way that the Christian is, by definition, someone who has  Spirit of Christ (Rm 8:9), the Christian is, by definition, someone whom the Law is not "made for."  Christians -- don't mistake this, we use rules all the time, but ... -- we weren't made for rules.

For some reason, this makes Paul think of the example of himself, toward our understanding of God's patience.  Our natural tendency is to draw for ourselves a god who is unconcerned about the small sins, but gets really madder and madder, the "bigger" the sins.  Paul excels himself in 1:9-10 by writing down the "big" sins.  Lots of people truncate 1:10 that way, only thinking of some of the big sins there, and don't realize that the Law, and Paul here, goes down from all those sins to "whatever else is contrary to sound teaching."  James and the Lord all make a similar point (Jm 2:10; Mt 5:22).  One of the great things about a country is to see it set down small things in law. Unbelievers constantly and repeatedly misunderstand Christianity here, disputing with what it says the Law covers, thinking that a particular thing is covered, and if it weren't, they would have their righteousness restored.  But God's Law reflects His perfection, and covers all that is contrary to sound teaching, even the small stuff.

Paul makes a statement about "the administration of God which is by faith" (1:4).  Did you know that?  That the _administration of God_ is by faith?  Wow!  This so-called pseudo-Pauline letter is sure good at completing what Paul was saying about Law in Romans 4: "the Law brings about wrath" (4:15).  We glory that it does so, and glory even more (2 Cor 3:9-11) that the administration of God is by faith.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Lk 1:1-38

This rich beginning to the gospel of Luke begins with a fine historian's introduction (1:1-4) and goes right into the fact that the Lord's birth had tremendous preceding events leading up to it.  Luke is the most expansive of the family events before the birth of Christ into a human family.  Since John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth, and Jesus's mother Mary were relatives (1:36), Luke shows how the angel (and thus the Lord) uses family relationships for encouragement (1:36-37).

The same angel Gabriel, who tells Mary about Elizabeth's pregnancy, omits Zechariah's unbelief (1:20).  Fear had gripped Zechariah (1:12), but the angel began with both Mary and Zechariah by saying "Do not be afraid" (1:13, 30).  There is an implicit comparison in the two responses, due to their similarity of subject and even the questions of the two (1:18, 34), but does Luke resolve the question about why one did not believe the angel's words (1:20), and one did, at least later?  This is  according to Elizabeth, who says so later in 1:45.  What Mary actually told the angel was "may it be done to me according to your word" (1:38).

There is possibly a lesson about faith here.

Is the response of Mary, "may it be done to me," the antithesis of what Zechariah said, "how will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advance in years?"  Thinking about his age and his wife's age made Zechariah ask "how will I know this?"  So he was making a syllogism: because of my age, and my wife's age, I do not know this for certain.  Know what?  What the angel had announced would happen, from 1:13-17.  He "knew" that he was an old man; he "knew" that his wife is advanced in days.  He heard, but did not believe (1:20), more things, the things in 1:13-17.  Mary, on the other hand, heard things of greater significance, undeniably things that could only apply to the Messiah (1:33).  And she heard things about her part in it (1:31).  Did she "know" that she was a virgin?  Of course.  She brought the problem up, thinking that the angel was talking about her conception  as very imminent (1:31).  And the angel explains why indeed it is.

There may be a difference in the "how will I know this?" (1:18) of Zechariah and the "how will this be?" (1:34) of Mary.  If as Zechariah's we want inward certainty, how much data does it take to give it to us, and who is it that gets to say that there is enough data for certainty?  But if as Mary's we want merely to understand how a promise will get around an obstacle, that is not a request for certainty, nor is it disbelief.


Monday, January 05, 2015

Rm 1:1-27

We'll be trying always to look with "new eyes" at the passages, and this is equally important everywhere, since most sincere theological errors come from presuppositions brought to the text.

Here, in the most famous epistle in the Bible, the presupposition is so easy to adopt -- that it's not an epistle!  How does that pan out?  Paul, writing a letter, using the customary "from:" and "concerning" and "to" of the headings then, puts ... for "concerning" ... "His Son"!!!!  Paul, writing a letter, and the subject is God's Son.  That's pretty non-letter-like, and pretty bold if you ask me.  Come on, Paul!  You expect us to believe that "God's Son" is the reason for your letter, not something about us, about you, about our stuff, about your stuff?  Yup!

And he proves it, doesn't he, going right into details!?  Before the "ink" was dry on the first word "Paul," with only one intervening word in Greek (doulos), names the one whom the letter is "concerning."  Before he says "concerning" (1:3) he's already mentioned who his letter is concerning!

But not to toy with the Romans, he gives them plenty of information about himself: he was sent by the One whom this letter is concerning, and he is a bond-slave of Him.  His particular task, a specialized one, is "the gospel of God," the good news from God, "which He promised beforehand."  It's one thing for something to be good news.  It's another thing entirely that it was known about beforehand, and the hardest to add to a piece of good news is the last fact: God promised the good news long ago.  Not too much good news gets promised beforehand, and that, by God, and written down.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

1 Peter 1:1-21

Before we go ahead and say that Peter is so much like Paul -- talking about predestination (1:1), God causing us to be born again (1:3), things reserved in heaven for us (1:4), etc -- let's also point out that Peter is very quick in this letter to mix in application along with it.  There are more than a few people who would be afraid to always be mixing in application so quickly, if they are weaned on Romans!  So this is good for some, including me!

What a surprise, to see in its bluntness and succinctness, the goal for being "chosen ... by the sanctifying work of the Spirit" here in the second verse: the goal is "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1:2, lit.)  Peter, who once told the Lord "go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man," comes back here to say something about sanctification that we forget: the very choice of us by God is by His sanctifying work.  Here we have also the basic meaning of sanctification showing itself, that it is to set something aside for special-case use.

What is this special-case use of being chosen?  Peter tells us three things about the choice: that it is a choice by the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work; that it is "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father"; and that it is "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."  Notice the activity of God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Christ.  And Christ's work, as the targeted goal for the rest.

That's worth unpacking a little bit.  Normally we think that our Christian life starts with a relationship to Christ, and that He ushers us into the presence of the Father, and that God the Holy Spirit is with us in our day-to-day goals.  But here, our far past is the province of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the future explicitly deals with Christ.  We can't put such boxes and categories about who does what when, and Peter serves to remind us of that.

Is it true, then, that theological disputes about faith and works, whether good works are inevitable, for example, can be settled by 1:2?  If Peter has an ordo salutis here, a sequence, then what he says that  we are chosen "unto," these two things, "obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," don't give themselves over to the demand for immediate good works as inevitable.  In fact, in all the discussions in Scripture, including of Paul's "apart from works" and James's discussion of Abraham's justification "by works," the works do not appear immediately, however inevitable they may indeed eventually be.  See Jn 14:12!  So Peter is dovetailing with their inevitability here, but not with the demand for seeing them immediately or constantly present, by saying that we are chosen "unto obedience."  And being sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ is just as much what we are chosen "unto," as obedience.  To be thus sprinkled is not just an initiation thing.  

Saturday, January 03, 2015

John 1:1-23

If you know how bewildering it can be to listen to someone else's details without being given a context to understand them, then the gospel of John is for you.  At least here "in the beginning."

By the end of our passage, in Jn 1:23, we're exactly at the same place with the details as Mark brings us to start his gospel, with the particulars of John the Baptist.  But how we got there is amazing.  And practicality?  You can learn enough about yourself as a Christian from one sentence here (1:8) to guard you through the course of this world.

In verses 1ff. John writes what some call "densely"; that is, everything is very precisely stated, and there is a reason for every detail.  For example, the Word "was" in 1:1.  In English we say "was there," for example, "I was there at my son's birth," when we want to express the / time when / place where / I already was.  Here, before the world's time and place had yet come about, the Word "was."

Then comes the dovetailing of what John is saying with Genesis 1:1, about there being only God at the beginning, and God being the one creating.  The Word was God.  So, there was still only God at the beginning.  The Word was with God.  So, the Word, being with God, and God.  What else?  Not an impersonal word, but a  "He" (1:2), was not only at the beginning, but at the beginning all things were made through Him.  Since then as well: all individual things have been made through Him; things have a "made-ness" to them.  All of them (1:3).  One mark of being "made" is that the materials are of similar nature across the board.  Atoms, for example.  DNA, in the case of life. 

Speaking of life, John goes on.  The very next assertions about "Him" are that in Him was life.  The Word is not an inanimate "it."

But nothing prepares us for the addition John makes next.  The life in the Word is, has all along been, "the light of men" ... the light of even Adam and Eve.  The light of men.  That life was there to be that, as we would expand in English.  Whenever "men" -- mankind -- have been in relatively little light, it was not because there wasn't any, shining in the darkness.

How do we know that John isn't talking directly about physical light?  Because the light is the light of the life "in Him" (1:4), and because of that interesting phrase, "shines in the darkness."  Physical light is not the life that always was in the Word, but this light is that life, in Him who was there before physical light, that shines in the darkness whether physical light does so there or not.

Having looked into John's first time-marker, "the beginning," we can also notice his hint of a second one, that this life was, at a point in time, not comprehended by "the darkness."  John is giving us the start of a story about the Light, and a theme in the ensuing story. But John got this from the Light Himself, which we can see from the profound conclusions the Light makes about Himself in Jn 12:35-36.

But back to why does nothing prepare us for the reference in 1:4b, "light of men"? Because nothing to that point in the text forced us to think of men as being in the picture.  People often say that God need not have created the world.  Even more so, the life that was in the Word: what necessity there for that life to be the light of men?  "What is man that You take thought of him?" Psalm 8:4 asks.  The stars and moon made the Psalmist ask that question.  How much less did what is in man compel the life that was in the Word at the beginning to be the light of men, including you or me.  The Word was not compelled by anything in men, to be their light.

But John is not yet finished talking about the significance to all men of the Light.  Even though he begins to talk about particulars in 1:6, he refers the coming of John the Baptist back to the Light that he was just talking about (1:7-8).  Did we expect John to say that the witness was going to testify about the "life" in 1:7?  That's not how the Baptist came.  Even though "the life was the Light of men," John the Baptist did not come saying it doesn't matter what came, as long as it has life ... NO! Light, the Light, matters.  Comprehension matters.  The life in the Word was the light of men, not a way to skip the light of men.  Light and life are not opposed.  Light is not skippable, on the way to life.  So John came to "testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him."  There is an ordering relationship here, which John echoes even at the end of the Gospel.  In this chapter, the ordering is Word, Light, testimony about the light, to believing.  In John 20 is the same thing: "these [words] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (20:31).  Believing is means to life.

Next comes a part that saddens even a small child who hears it.  In 1:09, everything is as it should be, but the situation in the world that the Light came into and continued in was a lack of knowledge of Him: "the world did not know Him."  Furthermore, "His own did not receive Him," referring to "His own" in the broadest terms, not necessarily in terms of just a nation or race.  One of the points of the prologue is the universality of what "His own" is, in the universe: everything that has been made!  And ... as a general description, His own did not receive Him, but that was not without exceptions: "as many as received Him" -- as many individuals as did -- the Word gave the right to become children of God!  Tying the previous together, John explains: "to those who believe in His name." (1:12).

John gets ahead of himself to describe this exception to the rule that "His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God ...."  He further says, "who were born" -- BOMBSHELL!  The Word did NOT JUST give the right to become children of God to those who received Him ... they were BORN!  Those who received Him were born of God! (1:13).

Next, he summarizes what he's been saying, 1:14.  The rest of what is commonly called the "Prologue," 1:14-18, recapulates and supplies more particulars, and even lets John tie himself into the story ("we saw His glory ..." (1:14)).

 "We all received" (1:16) refers to something specific, as does "grace for grace."  What was part of the glory, a fullness of grace and truth that the author saw in 1:14, is described as something specific, shared, here.  Something "of His fullness," i.e. some part of it, we all received. Not only that! (the "and" here is forceful ....)  It wasn't something skimpy.  "Grace for grace" means repetition of it over time, solely because of the previous.

And no, Paul didn't write 1:17 and insert it in.  It's Johannine language, which we recognize by the "came to be" literal.  Grace and truth came to be through Jesus Christ.  Another one of those forceful, emphatic "and" words.  Grace AND truth came to be through Jesus Christ.  Came to be right here among us, existing.  Incarnate.  How blessed to be those to whom this event, this Incarnation, has explained ... God!  And, finally, we are ready to hear what John the Baptist had been saying, as the other evangelists do as well: all four gospel writers agree that Isaiah 40:3 refers to John the Baptist.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Mk 1:1-13

To read Mark with some attempts at reading him afresh is good.  He will be done with his story before you know it, and there are many things a cursory reading might miss.  For example, his quotation gets critical attention, for essentially not having our footnote style.  If "Isaiah the prophet" is a scroll, containing all the prophets, then Malachi will be on that scroll.  Or perhaps he wanted to highlight verse 3 by direct mention of the source, and the other, Malachi quote, being from a "Minor Prophet," uncited for reasons of space.

But more important things than that are in this passage.  Let's not read church history into this baptism of John's, or even something current into the word "baptism," for that matter.  When the readers read "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" they were not compelled, as we tend to, think of ceremonies that forgive people.  The phrase is completely capable of being heard as "a complete immersion in a change of heart, looking to forgiveness of sins."  One hint of this is that the text says that John was "preaching" something, which emphasizes the content.  The common presupposition that the baptized were doing an act to get a result: that's reading into it.  Especially when the Lord comes and is baptized! We should realize that the Lord didn't come to a ceremony to get forgiveness of sins; but well might He attend and participate among those immersed in repentance, having a change of heart, regarding the forgiveness of sins.  No need to look for tit-for-tat magical ceremonies here.

Why then the confession of sin?  If you're dealing with forgiveness of sins, it will be no avail to not agree that they are there.  Admitting one's sins publicly is so foreign to the "modern world" that we don't even have a day in America for dealing with our sins, speaking socially.  We have days of sad remembrance, of wars fought, and other sad days for famous people's deaths, but isn't the closest thing in America something around Christmas time, "you better watch out ..." because of "Santa," or some kind of New Year's resolution tradition?  At least resolutions imply changes from the previous.  Nothing like the days of sackcloth and ashes in Nineveh, or the confessing of sins by those there in our text.

John however (John the Baptist) is making points from the details of the circumstance: now there's water, but the mightier One who is coming will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit."  One of the reasons this remark is so hugely impactful is precisely because the contrast he is making between what water can do and what God will be doing.  It is not "modalism" to identify "the Holy Spirit" as God.  Someone is coming who will be utilizing, employing someone ... God! (whom John characteristically named in the standard deferential Jewish way, by the way, not "directly," but with more impact!).  This mightier One will employ the Holy God in his ministry, just as the Baptist used water!  He will very-much-so immerse you with Him.  Fire emphasizes the holiness being present.  Water is quite weak, compared to fire.

Mark characteristically ends this section with a note of urgency and drama.  The Lord didn't come to hang with, and relax with.  The most serious of serious work was being done.


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