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Showing posts from July, 2016

Master of the Sabbath.

Who defines what’s good and evil on Sabbath? Jesus.Mark 2.23-28 • Matthew 12.1-8 • Luke 6.1-5As I said last time, don’t assume Pharisees were questioning Jesus because they wished to challenge him. Sometimes they were. But sometimes they were merely trying to understand why Jesus ignored their traditions—and why he was teaching his students to do likewise.Just like it came up one Sabbath when Jesus and his kids were going past the fields, and some of ’em began to yank a few of the heads of grain off.Mark 2.23-24 KWL23Jesus himself happened to travel through the fields on Sabbath.His students began plucking the grain along the road.24 The Pharisees told Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what one shouldn’t on Sabbath?”Matthew 12.1-2 KWL1 At that time, Jesus went through the fields on Sabbath.His students were hungry, and began to pluck the grain and eat it. 2 Seeing it,the Pharisees told Jesus, “Look, your students are doing what one shouldn’t do on Sabbath.”Luke 6.1-2 KWL1Jesus himself …

So why weren’t Jesus’s students fasting?

And what’s it have to do with wedding parties, robes, and wine?Mark 2.18-22 • Matthew 9.14-17 • Luke 5.33-39In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus taught on fasting, it was namely to say it’s to be private; we’re not to do it to seek attention. Mt 6.16-17 Certain Christians claim it also means we’re not to do it at all, and the basis for this claim is this passage, wherein some Jews complain Jesus’s kids don’t fast.Mark 2.18 KWLJohn’s students and the Pharisees were fasting. They came and told Jesus,“For what reason do John and the Pharisees’ students fast, and your students don’t fast?”Matthew 9.14 KWLJohn’s students visited Jesus, saying,“For what reason do we and the Pharisees fast so often, and your students don’t fast?Luke 5.33 KWLThey told Jesus, “John’s students fast frequently and hold vigils.Same with the Pharisees—and yours eat and drink.”
Ísan nistévontes/“were fasting” Mk 2.18 can also be interpreted “were [the sort of people who practiced] fasting.” The Pharisees were know…

Jesus calls Levi. Or Matthew. Whoever.

And why the point isn’t to party with sinners.Mark 2.13-17 • Matthew 9.9-13 • Luke 5.27-32I don’t expect anyone’s ever liked taxmen—except of course the kings for whom they were collecting. In first-century Israel, the Judeans and Galileans particularly disliked the taxmen, and to understand why, you gotta understand their history.In 67BC, Queen Alexandra Salomé of Jerusalem died. Her sons Hyrcanus (whom she made head priest) and Aristobulus fought over who’d be the next king. Antipater bar Antipas, the governor of Idumea (formerly Edom) backed Hyrcanus, and talked him into getting military help from Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, whom we know as Pompey. The Romans intervened in the fight, overthrew Jerusalem (and out of curiosity, Pompey took a peek in the Holiest Place of the temple), and imprisoned Aristobulus. But Pompey screwed Hyrcanus over, keeping him head priest, but making Antipater governor of Judea.Antipater’s son Herod: You might’ve heard of him. He married Hyrcanu…

Loads of proof in Jesus’s favor—but people don’t wanna see it.

John 5.31-47If you know the story, Jesus cured some guy in Jerusalem who’d been disabled for decades—an event which should’ve triggered great rejoicing, ’cause God had a prophet in Israel who could cure the sick!Instead the Judeans pitched a fit, ’cause Jesus cured him on Sabbath. And when Jesus correctly pointed out he could cure on Sabbath because his Father authorized him to do so—he is the Son of Man, after all—they didn’t care to hear it. This, despite the obvious evidence Jesus is precisely who he says he is. Today we’ll get into it.Elsewhere in John, the Pharisees objected when Jesus made similar grand statements about himself:John 8.13 KWLSo the Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t valid.”Because alithís ordinarily means “true,” various interpreters leap to the conclusion the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of lying. And no doubt some of ’em believed he was lying. But interpreting it “Your witness is not true” (NKJV) means the average Christian…

The implications of being the Son of God.

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And you thought it was just a nice title. John 5.17-30After Jesus cured the sickly man at the pool, the Judeans objected that he’d done so on Sabbath, to which Jesus responded like yea:John 5.17-18 KWL17Jesus answered them, “My Father works today, just like I work.”18 So the Judeans all the more wanted him dead for this reason:Not only was he dismissing Sabbath custom,but he said God was his own Father, making himself equal to God.Now, why’d that outrage the Judeans? Sloppy interpreters say it’s because Jesus was claiming, “I can do whatever I want, because my Father can do whatever he wants. I’m as unbound by your Law as he is.” So the Judeans were offended because Jesus was claiming license to break the Law.As they should be. When you break the Law, it’s sin. Yet Jesus was born under the Law, Ga 4.4 was held to the Law’s standard, Ro 2.12, 3.19 and didn’t sin. He 4.15 He didn’t violate the Law, despite anything lawless Christians claim—because they want license to break the Law.Okay…

How your politics will kill your testimony.

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Couple months ago I found one of my favorite theologians is on Twitter. I have a few of his books, and used to listen to his radio program—in podcast form, naturally; who listens to radio anymore? So I decided to “follow” him.About two weeks later I simply had to stop following him.Why? ’Cause everything he tweets is angry, partisan, hate-filled, deliberately provocative, overly zealous… and sometimes even the reverse of what Jesus teaches. You know, works of the flesh. The times he actually reflected Christ—the times he acted like the thoughtful theologian I originally became a fan of—were once in a blue moon. Now it’s nothing but bile.What happened to the guy? He got political.I know. If you’re the political sort, your dander’s probably up already. Might be from the title. “Politics kill my testimony? What, are you one of those [bums from the opposition party]?Maybe. But no, I’m not saying politics is gonna turn every Christian, or even you, into a fruitless Christian jerk. It’s not…

Are we living in the last days?

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Sure. When people ask, “Are we living in the last days?” what they nearly always mean by it is, “These awful things happening in the present day: Are they signs Jesus is returning soon? Like in the next few years? Is it the time-before-the-End-Times?”Why they’re asking is ’cause they already suspect the answer is yes.Because awful things are happening in the present day. Cops shooting innocent citizens; citizens shooting innocent cops. Wars and terrorists, rumors of wars and terrorists, people who could shoot up a room with no advance warning, drones which could smite you from the heavens above like Zeus himself. Scary new diseases. Unfamiliar “social norms” which were neither “normal” nor “moral” just a decade ago; who expected marijuana to be legalized? Unfamiliar technology which, given its power, may very well be dangerous. Racism coming out of the closet. Immoral people running for president, and so-called Christians not just holding their noses and voting for the lesser evil, bu…

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

Yep, we have a written record of it.Didache /'dɪ.də.kei, di.da'hi/ n. A first-century Christian manual for new believers. [From the Greek didahí/“teaching.”]In the first century, some anonymous Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for the new members of Christian synagogues: The stuff they felt these Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the Didache, from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin/“The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Western Christians assumed it had been lost sometime in the 800s, but Ethiopian Christians still had a version of it, and an 11th-century copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873.Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism, a lesson to be memorized (usually in question-answer format, though not here) to hel…

Remember the Sabbath day.

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Our weekly holiday… and a command we regularly violate.Believe it or not, we Christians actually have a holiday every single week. You likely forgot about it because it’s so regular.It’s Sabbath. It’s the day God mandated (in the Ten Commandments, you know) that people take off. We’re not to work on it. We have the other six days of the week for that.Exodus 20.8-11 KWL8“Remember to separate the day of Sabbath.9Work six days, and do all your work. 10 The seventh day is Sabbath.It’s for me, your LORD God. Don’t start any work on it. That counts for you,your sons, daughters, male slaves, female slaves, animals, or visitors at your gates.11For six days, I the LORD made the skies and the land, the sea and everything in it.The seventh day, I stopped, so I the LORD blessed a day of Sabbath. I made it holy.”And once again, in Deuteronomy.Deuteronomy 5.12-15 KWL12 “Keep separate the day of Sabbath, as your LORD God commanded you.13 Work six days, and do all your work. 14 The seventh day is Sab…

The sickly man at the pool.

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Whom Jesus cured on Sabbath. John 5.1-18When people compare the gospels, they lump this story together with the story in the other three gospels where Jesus cured the paraplegic. ’Cause this guy sounds paraplegic. But we’ve no idea if that was his problem: All John wrote was he was asthenón/“sickly.” Without strength, weak, feeble. The KJV translates it as “impotent,” which means something entirely different nowadays, and if you want your listeners to giggle, go ahead and keep calling him “the impotent man.” Jn 5.7 KJV I’ll stick with “sickly,” thank you.This took place at a pool in Jerusalem, during one of Jesus’s thrice-yearly Dt 16.16 trips to temple. The Sheep Gate was the east-wall gate, just north of the temple. (Today it’s the sha’ar ha-Arayot/“Lions’ Gate,” named after the leopard carvings over it, which get confused with lions. It’s the entrance to the Muslim quarter.) The KJV calls the pool “Bethesda,” so that’s what most bibles go with. But the original word is a bit harder…

Jesus forgives, then heals, a paraplegic.

And in so doing, shook the worldview of the scribes in the room.Mark 2.1-12 • Matthew 9.1-8 • Luke 5.17-26Bible scholars call this story a controversy pericope, a fancy way of saying it’s another tale where people debate who Jesus really is. You know, like Jesus tossing out the demonized guy in synagogue. There are a bunch of these stories in the gospels.See, in the process of explaining God to people, Jesus steps on a lot of toes. Especially among people who figure they already have God figured out—and Jesus contradicts them, so Jesus must be the one who’s wrong. Jesus still scandalizes people this way—but nowadays, the closed-minded folks have already embraced an iffy interpretation of Jesus which doesn’t offend them any, and we outrage ’em by poking holes in it. (Welcome to my world.)In Mark and Luke this story happens after Jesus cured an infectious man; in Matthew after visiting the Dekapolis and kicking 2,000 demons out of a pagan; and various gospel comparisons like to link thi…

The man Jesus cured… then drove away.

Just because he cured you, doesn’t mean he anointed you.Mark 1.40-45 • Matthew 8.1-4 • Luke 5.12-16You know that saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”? Here we see it slam right into Jesus.In Mark it’s after Jesus started traveling the Galilee preaching the gospel; Luke it’s while Jesus is in one of the towns; Matthew it’s immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, and doesn’t include the problematic ending I’m talking about.Initially it looks just like another case of faith-healing. A man approached Jesus, suffering from chara’át, the catch-all term the bible uses for infection—whether skin diseases, or the rot we find in clothing or buildings. Lv 13-14 If we’re talking skin conditions, Leviticus describes more than one. A spreading white spot on the skin; or a raw spot more than skin-deep; an open sore with yellow or white hairs round it. Lv 13.3-4, 10, 19 It lists symptoms, but doesn’t nail down any one disease. Really it could be all sorts of diseases: Eczema, skin cancer, even a…

Ready to take on the whole of the Galilee.

Never project your burnout upon Jesus.Mark 1.35-39 • Matthew 4.23-25 • Luke 4.42-44For some strange reason, whenever preachers talk about Jesus curing every disease in Kfar Nahum, they describe it as Jesus spending all day doing it. He didn’t spend all day at it. They came to him at sundown. Mk 1.32, Mt 8.16, Lk 4.40 He spent all night curing people and throwing out demons. That’s right. Hope he got his Sabbath rest, ’cause he sure needed it.By the end of it, preachers tend to describe Jesus as exhausted. And he might’ve been pretty tired, ’cause he was up all night. But exhausted? That’s only because they don’t know what it’s like to supernaturally heal people. Faith-healers will tell you it’s just the opposite. It’s not like a medical doctor, repairing patient after patient with treatment after treatment, taxing their mind and body with thought and work. You aren’t doing the work; the Holy Spirit is. You watch him do his thing; you rejoice once he’s done it. It’s not tiring. It’s in…

Jesus cures the crowds.

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When he healed everyone in Kfar Nahum. Mark 1.32-34 • Matthew 8.16-17 • Luke 4.40-41In ancient Israel there was no such thing as healthcare.If you got sick, your only recourse was either for God to miraculously heal you, or folk medicine. Science hadn’t been invented yet, so folk medicine was unproven. Some of it actually did work, like willow bark (which we nowadays call “aspirin”) or poppy juice (which we nowadays call “opium”). The rest were guesses, hearsay, rumor, or homeopathy—if something was poisoning you, a lot of poison oughta make your immune system fight it off all the harder! Or kill you, but them’s the risks.If you were wealthy, you could go to experts. But like I said, no science yet: These “experts” didn’t really know what they were doing. Read Hippocrates or Galen sometime; their philosophical theories are sorta entertaining, but the idea of people trying to cure the sick through this so-called “knowledge” is frankly frightening.We tend to translate the Greek word yat…

Curing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.

The first time Jesus cured someone on Sabbath.Mark 1.29-31 • Matthew 8.14-15 • Luke 4.38-39Jesus’s best student was probably Simon bar John Jn 1.42 (or Simon bar Jonah; Mt 16.17Matthew and John don’t sync up) whom Jesus had nicknamed Kefá/“Cephas”/“Peter.” He was picked to be in the Twelve. Whenever the Twelve get listed, Simon came first; Mk 3.16 and when the Twelve first started leading the church after Jesus ascended, we typically read of Simon leading the group. Ac 1.15, 2.14, 5.29 Hence Christians tend to agree Simon was the church’s first leader; and Roman Catholics insist part of the reason the Bishop of Rome leads their church is because he’s Simon’s successor to that job.But unlike leaders in the Catholic church today, Simon was married. 1Co 9.5 At this point in the gospels, he even had his wife’s mother living with him. For it was Simon’s house Jesus entered, and Simon’s sick mother-in-law whom they asked him to cure. The whole unmarried celibate leadership requirement, draw…

Does God actually do anything in your testimony?

Whenever you share your God-experiences, make sure God’s actually somewhere in the experience.Testimony /'tɛs.tə.moʊ.ni/ n. Public recounting of a religious experience, usually a conversion.[Testimonial /tɛs.tə'moʊ.ni.əl/ adj., testify /'tɛs.tə.faɪ/ v.]Usually when people talk about a testimony, it’s a formal legal statement, made before attorneys or a judge, of something you personally witnessed. Christian testimonies aren’t so formal. But they are about what we personally witnessed. We saw God do something. We’re sharing that story.By testimony lots of Christians mean their conversion story: When we first realized we were Christians, or first decided to become Christians. Some of these stories are dramatic, like the heroin addict who’s decided to kill himself with one massive overdose, and then Jesus appeared to him and said, “Don’t,” and now he runs a megachurch. Some of ’em are a bit more mundane, like mine: I was a little kid, and Mom told me about Jesus, and I asked …