Scriptures for advent.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 November

Each advent season I focus on scriptures which are related to advent topics. Namely Jesus’s first coming, and his second. So expect to see some such articles… but if you can’t wait that long, here’s some stuff I’ve written already.

Nativity stories.

Word! Jn 1.1-5 Why identifying Jesus as “the word” was so profound to the first Christians.
Recognizing and embracing the light of the world. Jn 1.1-13 The true light came into the world—and we get to see him.
The word became human, and explains God. Jn 1.14-18 Getting a really good look at God through Jesus.
One heck of a birth announcement. Lk 1.5-25 Gabriel’s announcement to the father of John the baptist.
How Mary became Jesus’s mother. Lk 1.26-38 What sort of person God selected as his mother.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Lk 1.39-56 When Jesus’s mother and John’s mother both prophesied about his coming.
The birth of John the baptist. Lk 1.57-80 And his father’s prophecy about just what sort of man he’d be.
How Joseph became Jesus’s father. Mt 1.18-25 Not foster father; adoptive father. God commissioned Joseph to raise his Son.
Christ the Savior is born. Lk 2.1-7 The political circumstances at the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
The sheep-herders’ vision of the angels. Lk 2.8-20 Jesus came to save everyone. Here, some of the everyone hear the good news.
The prophets who recognized Jesus. Lk 2.21-40 In temple, two prophets confirm who Jesus is to his parents.
The magi and the monstrous king. Mt 2.1-18 When word got out Messiah had been born, people died.

Messianic prophecies. (Or not.)

The first prophecy of a savior. Ge 3.14-15 After humanity messed up the universe, God indicated he has a plan to fix it.
The star coming out of Jacob. Nu 24.17 Centuries before Israel had a king, Balám predicted one.
The prophet like Moses. Dt 18.15-19. Moses spoke of prophets in general, but this particularly applies to Jesus.
The heir to David’s throne. 2Sa 7.1-17 The LORD told David his throne would last forever. In Jesus, it does.
Not allowed to rot. Ps 16.10 Jesus wasn’t in the grave long enough to rot… which resembles a line in a psalm.
Messiah and Melchizedek. Ps 110.4 How God’s chosen king is like this obscure ancient gentile king.
Jesus, our Immanuel. Is 7.14 How Jesus is like a prophecy about an oddly-named little boy.
The Son who was given us. Is 9.6-7 As disaster drew near to 8th-century BC Israel, Isaiah foretold a Messiah who’d set everything right.
One who brings justice to the gentiles. Is 42.1-4, Mt 12.14-20 A passage Jesus fulfilled—which is about Israel, but Jesus actually does it.
Plucking Jesus’s beard. Or not. Is 50.6 In stories of Jesus’s passion, we regularly hear of people tearing out his beard. It’s not in the gospels; it’s in Isaiah—and he’s speaking of himself.
Our suffering servant. Is 53 ’Cause usually people try to conquer the world by defeating others, not by suffering.
Rachel weeping for her children. Jr 31.15-17 The destruction of Ramáh is a lot like when Herod massacred Bethlehem’s children.
The Son of Man. Da 7.13-14 Jesus’s favorite description of himself comes from a Danielic vision.
“Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Ho 11.1 How fulfillment isn’t the same as a prediction coming to pass.
Christ is born in Bethlehem. Mc 5.1-4 Why the scholars figured Messiah came from that little town.
Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown? Mt 2.23 No; it’s wordplay. But wordplay can be a type of fulfillment.

The second advent.

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it. Mt 24.23-28 It won’t be any secret rapture; it won’t happen quitely in some obscure corner of the world; it won’t be something only Christians can see.
Jesus describes his second coming. Mk 13.24-27 After Jesus describes the great tribulation, he talks about his return.
When is Jesus returning? Mk 13.32-37 Jesus didn’t say. So watch out for his return.
The Five Stupid Teenagers Story. Mt 25.1-15 Don’t get tricked into missing the second coming.
The Lambs and Kids Story. Mt 25.31-46 Those who are headed for the kingdom are already acting as if they’re in it.
The Talents Story. Mt 25.13-30 What’re we doing with our king’s investments in our lives?
The Wheat and Darnel Story. Mt 13.24-30, 13.36-43 Till the second coming, we gotta put up with the weeds.
When Jesus got raptured. Ac 1.6-11 What goes up must come down.
Apostasy before the second coming. 2Th 2.1-12 Before Jesus returns, there’ll be a lawbreaker running amok.
Set your hearts for Jesus’s return. Jm 5.7-8 The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, not ours.
No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever! 2Pe 3.1-9 I know; it’s been 20 centuries. Don’t give up hope.

There’s a nice pile of reading material there. More to come.

Hanukkah.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 November

The Hebrew calendar doesn’t sync with the western calendar. That’s why its holidays tend to “move around”: They don’t really. Not like Easter, which is determined by the full moon, and therefore doesn’t sync with Passover like it oughta. In any event Hanukkah does fall on the same days every year: 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet. (And in 2021, this’d be sundown 28 November to sundown 6 December.)

Christians sometimes ask me where Hanukkah is in the bible, so I point ’em to this verse:

John 10.22 KJV
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

The “feast of the dedication” is Hanukkah. The word חֲנֻכָּה/khanukká (which gets transliterated all sorts of ways, and not just because of its extra-hard kh sound) means “dedication.” Other bible translations make it more obvious—

John 10.22 NLT
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.

—because their translators didn’t want you to miss it, whereas other translators figure that’s on you.

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday which celebrates the Hasmoneans’ rededication of the temple in 165BC.

History lesson time. Alexander “the Great” of Macedon had conquered Jerusalem in 332, and once he died the Greek Empire was split between his generals. Seleucus Nicator took the middle eastern part and made it the Seleucid Empire. Two centuries later, Antiochus Epiphanes (or Antiochus 4) became its king, and decided the Jews were gonna conform to the Greek paganism of the rest of his empire. He banned circumcision, desecrated the temple by putting a statue of Zeus in it (figuring, as Grecian pagans did, they all worshiped the same gods under different names, so YHWH was Zeus anyway), and sacrificed a pig on the altar. Many Jews capitulated, but one family of priests, the descendants of Asmoneus (hence “Hasmoneans”) would not.

Judah Maccabee (KJV “Judas Maccabeus”) in particular. His nickname מַכְבִּי/Makheby means “extinguisher” (of persecutors), although a lot of folks insist it means “hammerer,” which sounds more badass. The Hasmoneans frequently get called the Maccabees, even though only Judah had that nickname. Anyway, Judah’s insurgency actually worked, and drove the Seleucids out of Jerusalem. Not once and for all; other battles eventually got Judah killed. But at least they were out of the temple, which the Hasmoneans rededicated, and rebuilt the altar from scratch. Then they celebrated a feast. That’d be Hanukkah.

You can find the story in the apocrypha:

2 Maccabees 10.1-8 KJV
1 Now Maccabeus and his company, the Lord guiding them, recovered the temple and the city: 2 But the altars which the heathen had built in the open street, and also the chapels, they pulled down. 3 And having cleansed the temple they made another altar, and striking stones they took fire out of them, and offered a sacrifice after two years, and set forth incense, and lights, and shewbread. 4 When that was done, they fell flat down, and besought the Lord that they might come no more into such troubles; but if they sinned any more against him, that he himself would chasten them with mercy, and that they might not be delivered unto the blasphemous and barbarous nations. 5 Now upon the same day that the strangers profaned the temple, on the very same day it was cleansed again, even the five and twentieth day of the same month, which is Casleu. 6 And they kept the eight days with gladness, as in the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long afore they had held the feast of the tabernacles, when as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. 7 Therefore they bare branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto him that had given them good success in cleansing his place. 8 They ordained also by a common statute and decree, That every year those days should be kept of the whole nation of the Jews.

Advent Sunday.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 November

Four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season begins with Advent Sunday. That’d be today, 28 November 2021. (Next year it’ll be 27 November. It moves.)

The word advent comes from the Latin advenire/“come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to where? That’d be Jesus, formally coming to earth. We’re not talking about his frequent appearances here and there, but the formal appearances: Either the first time around, when he was born in the year 7BC, which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around, in the future, to take possession of his kingdom.

Historically this has been the time for Christians to get ready for his coming. Which we do for his first coming, by getting ready for Christmas. But Christians, Evangelicals in particular, forget it’s also about getting ready for his second coming. We might tell ourselves we oughta always be ready for that event—and we oughta!—but advent’s when we particularly pay attention to the idea. He’s coming back, y’know. Could happen at any time.

Since Evangelicals have kinda lost sight of this tradition, or figure it’s a Catholic thing (as if Roman Catholics don’t likewise lose sight of this tradition), we kinda let popular culture redefine the season for us. And of course they prefer to promote Mammonism. Gotta buy stuff for Christmas! Gotta shop. Advent gets reduced to the advent calendars (which count down from 1 December instead of the ever-changing date of Advent Sunday) and the daily treat you get from the calendar each day before Christmas. I prefer chocolate, and I know a growing number of alcoholics who prefer wine. But because manufacturers don’t care to change the product every year, we get 25-day advent calendars even though this year there are 28 days. They owe us three chocolates!

But this is what happens when we let Mammonists define the Christmas season: Wrong focus and attitude, more humbug and hypocrisy, more Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen, and less Jesus and good fruit and hope.

So ditch the secular “holiday season” and let’s celebrate advent. Joy to the world: The Lord is come!

Thanksgiving Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 November

In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday.

Whom are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.

—77th Congress, 6 October 1941
House Joint Resolution 41

The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday. But left undefined, ’cause our Constitution won’t permit Congress to pick a national religion, nor define religious practice. Article 6; Amendment 1 Not that Congress doesn’t bend that rule on occasion. Making “In God We Trust” our national motto, fr’instance.

Though our government is secular, the nation sure isn’t. Four out of five of us Americans call ourselves Christian. I know; we sure don’t act it. (Look at our crime rate. Look at the people we elect.) Regardless, a supermajority of us claim allegiance to Jesus, which is why we can bend the Constitution so often and get away with it. Our presidents do as well; our first president was the guy who first implemented a national Thanksgiving Day.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

—President George Washington, 3 October 1789

Yeah, Americans point to other functions as our “first Thanksgiving.” Usually a harvest celebration by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. Although technically the first Christian thanksgiving day on the continent was held by the Spanish in Florida in 1565—followed by another in Texas in 1598, and another by the Virginia colonists as early as 1607.

Over time, colonial custom created a regular Thanksgiving Day, held in the fall. Sometimes governments declared a Thanksgiving Day, like the Continental Congress declaring one for 18 December 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga. But Washington’s declaration in 1789 didn’t fix the day nationally (and he didn’t declare another till 1795). States set their own days: In 1816, New Hampshire picked 14 November, and Massachusetts picked 28 November.

It wasn’t till 1863 when it did become regular:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

—President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863

Lincoln and his successors declared Thanksgiving every year thereafter.

Read your bible!

by K.W. Leslie, 24 November

Just about every Christian teacher—myself included—tell Christians we gotta read our bibles.

’Cause we gotta. We live in a biblically-illiterate culture, folks. Heck, it’s darn near illiterate in general, because Americans simply don’t read. They read snippets; they read social media posts, or paragraphs, or really short articles, or devotionals whose daily reading intentionally takes up less than a page. Give them a long article to read, and about six paragraphs in, they’ll complain, “How long is this thing?” and quit. They’re not gonna read a novel, much less bible.

So the bits they do know of bible are entirely out of context. They’re individual verses, quoted to prove a point in a sermon, or turned into a meme and posted on social media. They’re the memory verses we use to defend ourselves: “No I don’t give to beggars, because if you don’t work you shouldn’t eat. That’s biblical.” It is, but again, context.

The bible references people know, are often a lot like that old children’s game of “telephone”: One kid whispers a message to another kid, who whispers it to a second, who whispers it to a third, and so on round the room… till it gets back to the first kid, who discovers the message changed an awful lot in transmission. Our culture has done the very same thing with bible quotes.

  • “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil” 1Ti 6.10 got turned into Money is the root of all evil,” and is used to bash the wealthy, the ambitious, capitalism, and pretty much everyone who has more than us.
  • “Judge not, that ye be not judged” Mt 7.1-3 got shortened to “Judge not,” and now we dismiss all sorts of behavior we’re supposed to critique, permit unrepentant sinners to take positions of authority… and miss Jesus’s real lesson, about inconsistent behavior. (Yep, Jesus said this. You’d be surprised how often people quote bible but don’t realize they’re directly quoting Jesus. You could be saying “Jesus says” instead of “The bible says”… although it’d have more impact if you knew what Jesus means.)
  • “The lion will lie down with the lamb” comes up from time to time when people talk about peace. But it’s a poorly-quoted bit of bible. In Isaiah 11.6 it speaks of a wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, and lion and calf respectively. Wild animals, and the domestic animals they usually attack.
  • “Pride goeth before a fall” is also a bit of bible that’s been abbreviated: “Pride [goeth] before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Pr 16.18 These are parallel ideas, so at least it wasn’t bent into the wrong idea. For once.
  • “The eyes are the windows to the soul” resembles Jesus’s saying that the eye is the lamp of the body, Mt 6.22, Lk 11.34 but Jesus is talking about a Hebrew idiom, “evil eye,” which meant greedy. If a good eye means light gets into your body, an evil eye means your body is dark. There’s nothing in the teaching about souls… and not every Christian is entirely sure what a soul is anyway.
  • “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t even in the bible. Not that it stops many a parent from quoting it in order to justify beating their kids. Yes, corporal punishment is found in the scriptures, Pr 13.24, 22.15, 23.13-14, 29.15 but so is the warning that if we don’t spare the rod, we’ll frustrate our kids by our lack of compassion. Cl 3.21 We’re meant to be merciful like our Father Lk 6.36 —something that’d sink in if we weren’t just cherry-picking scriptures to justify ourselves.

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November

In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. Today I’m not talking about the day itself though. I’m talking about the act.

Americans don’t always remember there’s such a thing as an act of thanksgiving. Our fixation is usually on the food, football, maybe the parade, maybe the dog show. If you’re pagan, you seldom even think to thank God… or anyone. Instead you conjure up some feeling of gratitude. You have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got some stuff you’ve always wanted. Or you don’t have these things, but you’re grateful for the few things you do have. Or you’re not grateful at all, and bitter… and in a few minutes, drunk.

But this feeling of gratitude isn’t directed anywhere. Shouldn’t you be grateful to someone or something? Shouldn’t there be some being to thank?

And that’s a question many a pagan never asks themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. Civic idolaters might be grateful to America or the president, as if they consciously gave ’em anythng. Those who love their jobs might be grateful to their bosses and customers. But pagans generally suppress the question by drowning it with food and drink. (And maybe thanking the person who prepared the food. But just as often, not.)

Even among the Christians who remember, “Oh yeah—we’re thanking God,” a lot of the thanking is limited to saying grace before the meal: “Good bread, good meat, good God let’s eat.” Although every once in a while somebody in the family might say, “And now let’s go round the table, and everybody say one thing you’re thankful for.” A game nobody enjoys but them… although I myself have come up with a lot of outrageous answers to that question, which amuse me at least.

But enough about Thanksgiving Day and its not-so-religious customs and behavior. The practice of thanksgiving isn’t limited to just this one day. If you wanna practice more actual, authentic thanksgiving in your relationship with God, great! I’m all for that. So’s God. But it means way more than thanking God only once a year, on the government-approved day set aside for it.

The Lost Sheep and Lost Coin Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

Luke 15.1-10.

Jesus loves sinners. Not just because he loves everybody without discrimination, because God is love, but because he knows the most effective way of getting a sinner to repent is by loving ’em. Show them grace, and they respond with gratitude. Unless of course they’re entitled jerks who think of course they deserve God’s kingdom… like we see in a lot of Christians nowadays, and like we see in the scriptures whenever Pharisees have a problem with Jesus being too liberal with people who deserve hate, scorn, and explusion.

In the gospels, two groups tend to be singled out for Pharisee ire: The publicans, natives of the Galilee and Judea who worked for and with the occupying Romans, and were considered sellouts and traitors and unclean apostates; and “sinners,” by which Pharisees meant irreligious people.

For some reason people tend to naïvely assume everybody in ancient or medieval times was religious. Every Egyptian believed in the Egyptian gods, or every Israelite believed in either the LORD or one of the Baals, or every Roman believed in the Greco-Roman gods, or every medieval European was Catholic or Pagan or, later, Protestant. Nope. Same as now, lots of people consider religion to be unimportant or irrelevant, or were even nontheist—but kept these feelings to themselves, ’cause it’d get ’em in trouble with the religious majority. Even in countries with freedom of religion, people who believe in nothing try to stay under the radar. Just look at all the hypocrites in the Bible Belt, who claim they’re good Christians but vote like racists and social Darwinists and greedy Mammonists.

So when Jesus hung out with publicans and sinners, it really triggered ’em. “What’s the rabbi doing with pagans? Why’s he going to their homes? Why’s he eating with them? You know they don’t follow our exacting standards for ritual cleanliness; he could be eating bacon for all we know! In fact I’ve never seen him wash his hands…” And so on.

For them, Jesus had two parables. Same punchline, ’cause they’re about the same thing. I don’t know whether in real life he actually told them one right after the other like this, or whether Luke just bunched ’em together in his gospel for convenience. Only literalists think it matters; it does not.

Luke 15.1-10 KWL
1 All the publicans and sinners were coming near Jesus to hear him,
2 and some Pharisees and scribes were grumbling, saying this:
“This one befriends sinners. And eats with them.”
 
3 Jesus told them this parable, saying,
4 “Any person among you have 100 sheep,
and upon losing one of them,
don’t leave the 99 in the middle of nowhere,
and go after the lost one till you find it?
5 One places the found sheep on one’s shoulders, rejoicing,
6 coming into the house together with friends and neighbors,
telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I found my lost sheep!’
7 I tell you this is like the joy in the heavens over one repentant sinner,
rather than over 99 righteous people who didn’t have any need of repentance.
 
8 “Or some woman who has 10 drachmas, when she loses one drachma.
Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house,
and carefully seek till she finds it?
9 On finding it, she gathers her friends and neighbors,
saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I found my lost drachma!’
10 I tell you this is like the joy found among God’s angels
over one repentant sinner.”

The gospel of Peter.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 November

It’s not really the gospel according to Simon Peter.

There were rumors among ancient Christians that Peter wrote a gospel. Serapion of Antioch (191–211) mentioned when he visited a church in Rhossus, they were reading a Gospel of Peter—which he read, and didn’t find legitimate. Nope, it wasn’t actually by Peter; it’s Christian fanfiction which claimed to be from Peter. Probably composed in Serapion’s day, in the mid to late 100s.

Eusebius Pamphili (260–339) said he heard of a Gospel of Peter, and that it was heretic and no real Christian saint taught from it. Origen of Alexandria (184–253) and Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393–457) mention and dismiss it. Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, 342–420) condemned it, but probably secondhand, ’cause he read Eusebius, not the gospel itself. That’s about it.

Yeah, Evangelicals popularly teach the Gospel of Mark is really the gospel of Peter,’cause tradition has it John Mark was Peter’s disciple. Or, in some traditions, his son. So Mark’s source for all his Jesus stories would be Peter—and maybe that’s true; I have no idea. Doesn’t matter: If you’re putting together a history, you optimally should get many testimonies, not just one; even the scriptures say so. Dt 19.15, 2Co 13.1 So if Mark quoted Peter alone, that’s not as good an argument for its validity as you think. (A far better one would be that all the other Christians who had lived to see and interact with Jesus personally, accepted it as true, and preserved it.)

Anyway. In 1886 French archaeologist Urbain Bouriant found a manuscript buried with an Egyptian monk in Akhmim, Egypt. It wasn’t the whole gospel, but a fragment. The fragment was dated from the 700-800s, and confirmed in 1972 by papyrus fragments from Oxyrhynchus.

Serapion found it docetist, which is an early Christian heresy which taught Jesus wasn’t really human. Bear that in mind as you read this version, translated by J. Armitage Robinson.

Earthly sovereignty, and God’s sovereignty.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

As I wrote in my article on God’s sovereignty, humans have some messed-up ideas about how it, and God, works. Largely because we confuse human sovereignty with divine sovereignty, and think God acts like we would act, were we sovereign.

Jean Calvin (1509–64), who came up with various beliefs about how salvation works which we nowadays call Calvinism, was a medieval theologian from France. If you know European history, you know France for the longest time was an absolute monarchy, in which the French king ran his nation like a dictatorship. His rule was absolute. He wasn’t bound by law, because he made the laws and could unmake them at will. He wasn’t held in check by any parliament or court. He answered to no emperor. He didn’t answer to the pope either; if he didn’t like the pope he’d just get rid of the current one and appoint a new one. I’m not kidding; French kings actually did this more than once.

L’état, c’est moi”/“The state; it’s me” was how Louis 14 (1643–1715) put it: If you defied the king you defied the state, which meant you were a traitor and he had every right to kill you. Heck, if he merely found you inconvenient, like Naboth was with Ahab, 1Ki 21 he’d kill you; unlike Ahab he’d suffer no consequence, because the medieval view of “divine right of kings” meant even God’s law didn’t apply to him.

To Calvin, that’s sovereignty. That’s what it looks like. But human kings have limits, and the LORD does not. Human kings can only tap the gold and resources in their kingdom, but God can create new and infinite resources with a word. Human kings can only enforce their will with soldiers, which die; God can likewise enforce his will with a word—but if he chooses to use angels instead, his angels don’t die. Human kings also die, but Jesus is raised and won’t die again.

To Calvin, God’s sovereignty was everything the French king’s sovereignty was… times infinity.

Thing is, the French king was human, and humans have gone wrong. We go particularly wrong when we’re handed absolute power, and nobody bothers to put any checks or balances on it. Our natural selfishness turns into something absolutely monstrous, and even the best kings, like David ben Jesse, fall prey to it… and people die.

Now if you believe medieval French propaganda about how this system was all God’s idea (it’s called the divine right of kings after all), you might develop the idea God’s cool with power-mad kings because he himself exhibits some of these power-mad traits. And you’d probably use that belief to justify the idea of divinely-appointed absolute rulers. You certainly wouldn’t have a problem with it—which is why Calvin felt he could safely preface his 1536 book Institutio Christianae Religionis/“Institutes of the Christian Religion” with an introduction to King Francis 1 (1494–1547). Surely Francis would appreciate the ideas about divine sovereignty; it looked just like his sovereignty. Might even have inspired him to flex it a little more, had he read the book.

But like determinism, this idea of meticulous sovereignty is a human idea, overlaid upon the bible, overlaid upon theology—and it doesn’t belong there. Because it’s inconsistent with love, with grace, and with the essence of God’s being. Love is who he is. Yet Calvin’s Institutes says nothing about it. Never reminds us God is love; never quotes the proof texts. Because to Calvin, God isn’t defined by his love, but by his might. God’s sovereignty is central and vital to Calvin’s understanding about God. Take it away, and he’s not God anymore.

It’s why Calvinists struggle to understand exactly how God became human, because if Jesus really did surrender all his power, it means to them he’s not God anymore. So he can’t have. He must’ve only been pretending to be a limited, powerless human… kinda like the Docestists claim, but not as heretic. More like God in a human suit, kinda like Edgar in Men in Black but less gross.

God is sovereign. (So, our king. Not our puppet master.)

by K.W. Leslie, 17 November
SOVEREIGN 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n noun. A supreme ruler.
2. adjective. Possess supreme or final power.
[Sovereignty 'sɑv.(ə)r(.ə)n.ti noun.]

Typically when people talk sovereignty, they’re speaking of the adjective. They’re talking about supreme or final power, and who has it. Like a nation. Our country claims the right to do as it pleases, despite what other countries are doing, or trying to get us to do. If other countries want to cut pollution, and want us to sign a treaty which agrees to do so, but our president doesn’t believe in climate change and sees no reason to make our businesses stop dumping their garbage into our air and drinking water: Hey, we’re a sovereign nation, and those other nations can go pound sand. More carbon for everyone!

More often lately, people talk about individual sovereignty: They claim they’re sovereign citizens, who can do as they please and no government can tell them otherwise. If they want to refuse vaccines or get an abortion, how dare any government force them to act against their will. True, our governments recognize no such claim, because our Constitution entrusted Congress with this sovereignty, but you try making “sovereign citizens” practice eighth-grade reading comprehension. They’re sticking with fourth grade, and they’re sovereign and you can’t make ’em.

Obviously the way Christian theologians define sovereignty is way different. There, we’re talking about God’s sovereignty: His power, and right and authority, to rule the universe.

Which he does. He created it; he has the unlimited power to do with it, and make it do, as he pleases. He knows it inside and out, and knows best how to run it, so we believe it’s best if we defer to his wisdom about how it works. He’s setting up a kingdom meant to rule the cosmos, and Christ Jesus is its king. All this stuff is in the bible; arguably it’s the primary thing the bible’s about.

We Christians largely agree God is sovereign over the universe. There are certain Christians who take the deist view, and think God created the universe to run on its own, like a really good and well-wound-up clock. But then he left it to fuction on its own, without his input or interaction. Certain cessationists believe God doesn’t do miracles anymore, and believe this is why: He left us a bible, and doesn’t need to talk to us anymore, nor offer any supernatural corrections to the way the universe is running. He left us and forsook us; we’re on our own.

The rest of us agree God is king of the universe. Where we disagree is how he does it.

The scriptures make clear God issues commands, either to nature 2Ch 7.13 or to us humans. 2Ch 7.17 He’s almighty, so he can enforce his commands: Make us obey, or penalize us when we won’t. And he has every right to command us, for he made us to obey these commands. They’re good works, Ep 2.10 and if we don’t do as designed, he has every right to correct us. Even unmake us.

Yeah, there are Christians who believe God has no such rights. They won’t say it in these particular words; they know how rebellious and heretic it sounds. So they fudge around it and claim God gave us free will, and he loves our free will so much, he’d never ever interfere with it. At all. “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman,” they insist, “and will never interfere with your life unless you grant him permission.”

Okay yes, God gave us free will. (Duh.) God gave your kids free will too. Does that mean when they get the idea to paint the cat, you’re gonna let ’em? Not unless you really hate that cat. (Often not even then.) Free will means we have the ability to choose our own course of action… but God has free will too. Freer than ours; we’re limited and he’s not. God can almightily clamp down on our bad choices. Just ’cause he doesn’t always, doesn’t mean he doesn’t and won’t.

Some people are dying, and are fighting off their deaths as best they can—but God’s decided their time’s up. No, he’s not passively letting them die; it’s his idea. He can decide that, y’know. Tell them God would never interfere with their free will: They don’t wanna die! Yet he isn’t granting their requests for longer life. Death is totally interfering with their free will.

Likewise people whom God has decided don’t get to become wealthy. Or women whom God decided don’t get to be mothers. Men who wanna pursue one vocation, but God reroutes them to one he prefers. People who wanna move in various directions, but God both shuts the door and closes the window. Ac 16.6-7

See, either God’s in charge, or we’re in denial: We’ve decided he’s not really, and make no attempt to submit to his will or approval. Jm 4.15-16 Not the smartest plan. But it’s indicative of Christians who believe God’s kingdom hasn’t arrived yet, and won’t be here till Jesus returns. Till then, they intend to enjoy life and do as they wish. They imagine once Jesus transforms us in his return, 1Co 15.51-52 he’ll vaporize our selfish nature—so there’s no point in currently fighting it. Go ahead and sin; we’ve got grace. Till the King comes, sin gets to be king. (Scriptures to the contrary. Ro 6.1-2, 14)

The sovereign of the future.

What’s these lawless folks’ justification for saying God isn’t currently our sovereign?

Most of it comes from typical human messed-up ideas about how sovereignty works. See, when we get hold of too much power—the level varies from person to person—we turn evil. We won’t even realize it’s happening. We’ll imagine we’re benevolent dictators; we only want what’s best for our subjects. But we figure the only way to give ’em what’s best is to take control over more than we should. Give ’em no freedom at all; give ’em terrible consequences for even thinking of going against us. We imagine it’s the only way to keep everyone happy. In reality it only makes the tyrants happy.

Since God hasn’t utterly taken away our free will and turned us into mindless robots, and since God doesn’t immediately strike people with lightning whenever we break a command, lawless people presume God must not have taken his throne yet. ’Cause if they were in charge, heads would roll. God must therefore have put off his reign till Jesus returns. Then Jesus can be the tyrannical dictator who reprograms all the resurrected Christians into automatons who never even think of sinning, and all the non-Christians get tossed into hell. (What about the millennium? They don’t believe in it.)

What about the present? Who rules the universe right now?

Ah. There, many Christians assume after sin and death entered the world, God fled like a king going into hiding during a coup d’etat; like King David fleeing Absalom. 2Sa 15.14 God retreated to the territory he fully controls, i.e. heaven. From there he’s amassing a giant invasion army to take back his world. When God offers us strength and support nowadays, it’s like a king in exile smuggling ammo to his loyalists in the resistance. It’s kinda covert, ’cause God supposedly doesn’t want to tip his hand. But just wait till he invades. Oh, just you wait.

Whom does this scenario place in charge of the world? Satan. Jesus referred to “the ruler of this world” more than once, Jn 12.31, 14.30, 16.11 and in Jesus’s tests in the wilderness the devil claimed it itself is that very ruler. Lk 4.6 Jesus said “the ruler of this world” has been judged, Jn 16.11 so it can’t be God.

This is why Christian mythology claims God originally set a vice-regent in charge of the earth, named Lucifer. But power went to this archangel’s head, and it rebelled, so God fired it and had security throw it out. Like any deposed sovereign in serious denial, the devil is issuing statements from Mar-a-Lago, calling itself by its old titles, demanding obeisance as if it deserves honor. These myths became the basis of a lot of medieval theology and poetry, and of course present-day novels, and sermons about hellfire. None of it’s biblical though. I suspect it’s Satan padding its résumé: It was never that important or powerful in heaven, and rebelled ’cause it coveted power.

The rest of Christendom tends to skip the myths and focus on the kingdom. Which exists in a paradox of both being here already… and yet Jesus has yet to bring the kingdom with him when he returns. So God is sovereign, but not everyone recognizes his sovereignty yet. They will, Ro 14.11 but not yet.

Conditional sovereignty.

In the Old Testament, God’s the sovereign of Israel. They don’t have a king; don’t need one. God’s their king. Jg 8.23 He identified them to a Pharaoh as “my people,” Ex 7.16 the God of their ancestors, their God too, they his subjects. Lv 26.12

Okay yeah, later they wanted a human king, despite God being their king; 1Sa 12.12 they thought it’d be more stable a form of government, ’cause self-control wasn’t working for them. God was okay with the idea, but he considered these kings nothing more than his vice-regents: They answered to the real sovereign of Israel, who really reigned: The LORD. True, a lot of ’em did as they pleased, and paid the LORD lip service… and when they did, got in deep trouble with their boss.

This concept continued into the New Testament, but God’s kingdom expanded beyond Israelis and now includes everyone who comes to worship and follow the LORD and his anointed king Jesus. God’s still sovereign—the king over every Christian.

What about the rest of the world? Well, the bible kinda waffles back and forth between how God rules the world… and how pagans have no relationship with him.

GOD RULES THE WORLD.NO HE DOESN’T.
God reigns over all the nations. 1Ch 20.6 Those who disregard God, aren’t his people. Ho 1.9
God judges all the nations. Jl 3.1-3 Conversely, those who weren’t God’s people, now are. Ho 2.23, 1Pe 2.10
God’s kingdom is over all. Ps 103.19 Those who are now God’s children, formerly weren’t. Jn 1.11-13
  Legitimately, sovereignty only belongs to God. Ps 22.28
  In certain cities, God has those who are his—and those who aren’t. Ac 18.10
  Don’t yoke yourself with unbelievers, for Jesus has no relationship with them. 2Co 6.14-16
  If Jesus’s Kingdom were of this world, it’d act a whole lot different. But it’s not. So it doesn’t. Jn 18.36

You notice a lot of the proof texts differ between Old and New Testaments. In the OT, God was definitely sovereign over Israel, yet its authors claimed his sovereignty over the world. In the NT, God is sovereign over Christendom, and its authors state he’ll take sovereignty over the world—eventually. Not yet. When Jesus returns.

The way I phrase it is God has a valid claim to the world, ’cause he created it; but he has no relationship with those who reject him. That’s why he hasn’t saved them, hasn’t blessed them, hasn’t filled them with his Holy Spirit. Nor does he hold them to his laws: He lets them go their own way. (To destruction, but still.) He lets ’em have their evil hearts’ desires, Ro 1.24-25 and the obvious end result is their current awful behavior.

Romans 1.28-32 KJV
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Properly, God’s sovereignty is a conditional sovereignty: He’s Lord when we make him Lord. Yes, he’s still Lord when we have nothing to do with him—but his current priority is to win these people over, not rule them as unwilling subjects. It may feel sometimes like he’s punishing them for being unwilling subjects, but really they’re just suffering the natural consequences of following the wrong sovereign.

But this time will come to an end. Always does. For many, it’s at death. For many whose evil is so destructive, God simply has to intervene sooner. And once Jesus returns, that’s it for everyone.

Meanwhile, those who don’t follow God still get his grace. No, not his saving grace; that’s for those who trust him to save them. It’s what theologians call prevenient grace, the grace that’s always been around, pointing us to God. It’s the grace where the sun rises on the evil and good, where the rain falls on the just and unjust. Mt 5.45 It’s those situations where pagans get the fringe benefits of living among Christians who show them compassion (we are showing them compassion, right?) and love their neighbors. And it’s the grace which gives them plenty of opportunities to quit a life which isn’t working for them, and finally turn to God.

Calvinist sovereignty.

If you recall what I wrote about typical messed-up human ideas about how sovereignty works: People imagine sovereignty as absolute power over everyone and everything in their domain. They can do whatever they like with their subjects. In fact they’re not really sovereign unless they wield that control. Their will is supreme.

This was the way kings worked in the Middle Ages, particularly France. Hence this was the way French subject Jean Calvin imagined God as king. He’s almighty, so he already has the level of absolute power we humans can only salivate over. Nothing and no one can stop him. And Calvin was a determinist, so he concluded nothing does stop God: This universe is precisely the one he wants.

This universe? Have you seen this universe? It’s crap.

True, Calvinists admit, it’s crap. For now. God’s in the process of reforming it. It looks like crap now, but everything’s going according to God’s wonderful plan, and nothing can frustrate it, for God pulls every string. Everything we see, everything which happens, every action, every electron—it’s all precisely where God wants it. For if he didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there. But he does, so it is.

Um, what about evil? Oh, our Calvinist strawman would say, evil’s no problem. God’s still in control. He’ll do away with it eventually, but for right now, evil is precisely where he wants it. Again, if he didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be there. But he does, so it is.

Wait, God wants it there? Again, if he didn’t want it… yada yada yada.

Well why in the cinnamon toast hell does God want it there? Doesn’t he hate evil? Hasn’t he denounced it like crazy? Doesn’t he claim to be holy, i.e. utterly separate from evil? What in the ten heavens is the Lord YHWH doing suborning evil?

Here our Calvinist strawman usually comes up with some convoluted argument about how God can micromanage the universe, including the micromanagement of all the evil in the universe, yet magically keep his hands clean. There’s a bit in there about the difference between God’s revealed will in the scriptures, and his secret will which he keeps only to himself—and the evildoing is apparently part of the secret will. ’Cause God hasn’t explained to us why he made evil part of his plan. Remember, they insist this universe is precisely the one he wants, so evil’s here on purpose. Yet somehow it’s not hypocrisy for him to regularly, loudly, even angrily condemn the very same evil he makes humanity do.

They have no good explanation… but their usual excuse is “Who are you to question God?” Ro 9.20 Yeah the plan sounds like it’s utterly f--ed up beyond reason, but you just gotta trust the plan. Trust that God’s good. Trust that he’s able to have two entirely different, contradictory wills, yet not be an almighty schizophrenic hypocrite.

After their intellectual jiggery-pokery is over, they’re gonna come away very satisfied with their explanation. Not so much us.

’Cause that’s the problem with a micromanagerial God: If he really does control everything in the universe to the degree Calvinists claim, he’s included way too much evil. More evil than good, y’notice. So much evil, we can’t actually call him good! He’d only be good once we redefine “good” to mean “whatever God does.” And y’know, a lot of Calvinists actually do redefine “good” like that. Good and evil aren’t based on the Law and sin, on selflessness and selfishness. They define it based on whatever God feels like doing from one day to the next. It’s relative. It’s foundationless.

As the apostles defined love, micromanagement actually violates it. Love doesn’t demand its own way! 1Co 13.5 It violates self-control, which is one of the Spirit’s fruits, Ge 5.23 and one of God’s character traits. God must limit himself and the control he wields: He wants us to follow him of our own free will. God is love, and love hopes all things; 1Co 13.7 it doesn’t force all things.

That’s why evil exists: Not because it’s part of God’s inscrutable plan, but precisely because it’s not. God wants us to be good, but we seldom use our free will for good. Nor does evil’s existence mean God’s not almighty: He can, and often does, step in and stop it. At the End, he’ll get the outcome he wants and expects, not because he has to control every little thing in the cosmos, but because he’s mightier than chaos. Real power doesn’t need to pull strings. It commands and is obeyed. Ge 1.3

Micromanagement is how humans would behave if we were sovereign. Not how God behaves. We humans covet power so much, we’ve simply projected our personal, selfish wish-fulfillment upon God. Calvinists claim it even honors God: Their concept of sovereignty describes him as almighty, majestic, all-benevolent, and wise. Which he is. But the reason Calvinists talk up all those traits, and spend so much time on God’s greatness and mightiness and goodness, is ’cause they’re trying to distract themselves and us away from the problem of evil in a deterministic God’s universe.

Because people wanna know how a good, almighty God can permit evil. Because if they were almighty, they wouldn’t—and they’re not even good! So shouldn’t a good God do it? Calvinist answers to this question are so twisted and offensive, antichrists regularly use them to argue there can’t be a God… or if there is, he’s a dick, so don’t worship him.

’Cause if God’s a micromanager, he’s a monster. Which is why I’m absolutely not a Calvinist.

The king is coming.

But rather than end this piece on a giant bummer, I’m gonna remind you Jesus is coming someday to rule his kingdom.

How do you imagine Jesus will rule? Like the Calvinists, a lot of us project our own flawed ideas about leadership upon him: We imagine a benevolent dictator, or a micromanager, or a kindly grandpa who’s too busy napping to notice we’ve raided the liquor cabinet. You wanna understand God’s sovereignty properly, you gotta read the gospels. What does Jesus say God’s kingdom looks like? ’Cause that’s exactly what God’s sovereignty looks like.

Till the kingdom fully arrives, God’s outposts of the kingdom—his churches—are likewise meant to look that way. They don’t always look that way, and that’s our fault. Not everyone is truly following our king. Once Jesus takes personal, direct control, things’ll straighten up in a hurry. Meanwhile we must continue to pray for this to happen—as Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” Lk 11.2 KJV Pray for God’s sovereignty to be recognized, and therefore followed. For him to have his way—because we his people recognize, and contribute to, his kingdom.

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

by K.W. Leslie, 16 November
DOCTRINES OF GRACE 'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪs noun. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.

A number of Calvinists are uncomfortable with the title “Calvinist.”

For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer: They claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who was comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.

Others concede not everything Jean Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obviously they’ve a problem with other ideas Calvin had which undermine God’s character. Like double predestination, the belief God created people whom he never intends to save, whose only purpose is to burn forever in hell, and thus be a contrast to God’s love and grace by showing off God’s hate and rage. Calvin acknowledged it’s a necessary logical conclusion of his system… but understandably a lot of Calvinists hate this idea, and try their darnedest to reason their way out of it. With varying degrees of failure.

Regardless the reason, many Calvinists prefer to call themselves “Reform Christians”—with a capital R, because they’re speaking of the Protestant Reformation, and not just any reformed Christian group. As far as some of Calvinists are concerned, they’re the only truly reformed part of the Reformation. The other movements capitulate to Roman Catholicism much too much for their taste.

The problem with relabeling? Yep, not every Reform Christian is Calvinist. Lutherans and Molinists aren’t necessarily. Arminians (like me) and Anabaptists certainly aren’t. If you’re Protestant, Reform means your movement and theology go back to the reformers of the 1500s, and you embrace the ideas of scriptural authority (prima/sola scriptura), salvation by grace (sola gratia), justification by faith (sola fide), and atonement by our sole mediator Christ Jesus (solus Christus). You know, stuff just about every Protestant believes—plus many a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, even though people in their church leadership might insist otherwise.

“The doctrines of grace” is the other label both “Reform Christians,” and Calvinists who don’t mind their title, like to use to describe their central beliefs about how God saves people—or as we theologians call this branch of theology, soteriology. They’re called “doctrines of grace” because God saves us by his grace, right? What else might you call ’em?

But like I said, Calvin’s fixation on sovereignty and power undermines God’s character. And in so doing, it undermines much of the grace in his system. Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. But when Calvinism describes salvation, you’ll find not only is it not gracious: It’s coerced, involuntary, hollow, and sorta evil.

The Wedding Party Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 November

Matthew 22.1-14.

This parable has a lot in common with Jesus’s Dinner Party Story in Luke. So much so, many Christians consider them the same story, and teach on them at the same time. They might primarily present it as the Wedding Party Story, and quote some bits of Luke to add some depth; or as the Dinner Party Story, and quote bits of Matthew. Or they’ll say, “Well in Matthew it’s a wedding and in Luke it’s a dinner party… but it’s all the same thing, right? A wedding is just a dinner party to celebrate a wedding. So the differences don’t matter.”

But they do. Because in the Wedding Party Story it’s not just any wedding. The person throwing the party isn’t the groom, as was the custom in first-century middle eastern weddings; in this case it was his father. Who’s the king. And not just a king like our democracies have, who’s really just a rich noble with an extra-fancy title who gets to be on the money and has a few ceremonial government duties. This guy actually rules his country, like a dictator. Like Salman ibn Abdulaziz al-Saud of Arabia. Imagine he threw a wedding party for his son Muhammad… and people behaved this way towards him. Heads would roll. As they do in this story.

Matthew 22.1-14 KWL
1 In reply Jesus again spoke to them parabolically, saying,
2 “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person, a king,
who makes a wedding feast for his son.
3 He sends his slaves to call the called to the wedding feast,
and they’re not willing to come.
4 The king sends other slaves again,
telling them, ‘Tell the called, “Look, my banquet was prepared!
My oxen, and well-fed sacrificial meats, and everything is ready!
Come to the wedding feast now!” ’
5 But the dismissive invitees go away.
One goes to his field, one to his business.
6 The rest seize the king’s slaves, abuse, and kill them.
7 The king is angry. Sending his army,
he destroys those murderers and fires their cities.
8 Then the king tells his slaves, ‘The wedding feast is ready.
The called weren’t worthy.
9 So go to the crossroads and call as many as you find to the wedding feast.
10 Going out, those slaves gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good,
and the wedding feast fills with people reclining at table.
11 The king, entering and seeing those reclining at table,
sees a person there not wearing wedding clothing.
12 The king tells him, ‘Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?’
The person was struck silent.
13 Then the king told his servants, ‘Bind him feet and hands.
Throw him into the darkness outside.
Weeping and teeth-grinding will be there.’
14 For many are called, and few chosen.”

Christians get confused by this story. In part because Christians who don’t live under monarchies, and especially those who don’t live in the ancient near east, really don’t understand the cultural context. Nor do they understand much of the capricious-sounding behavior of the king, ’cause they presume the king in this story is God. And the son is Jesus, and the wedding banquet is the end of time, and the dismissive invitees and the guy without the wedding clothes are sinners who deserve what they’re getting… and so forth.

Especially do they not understand Jesus’s moral of his story: “For many are called, but few [are] chosen.” Mt 22.14 KJV Wait, how does God call you, yet not choose you? Shouldn’t those be the same thing? Determinists are entirely sure they are, and other scriptures kinda make it sound like they’re one and the same:

Romans 8.29 LEB
29 Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers; 30 and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified.

They assume all these things are a package deal. If you’re elect, you’re

  • foreknown
  • called
  • justified
  • glorified

and you can’t be one without all the others. Called means chosen.

So what’s going on here? Glad you asked. Let’s get to it.

The king, the kingdom, and God.

Heaven’s kingdom (or God’s kingdom; same thing) is like this king. Jesus says so upfront. He doesn’t say the king represents God; we read that into the story because the king has a son, so we presume these are two persons of the trinity. We read of a wedding feast, and read all the Revelation imagery of the Lamb’s bride Rv 21-22 into it. Basically we add a lot to the text which isn’t actually in it. But the king represents the kingdom. Not God. “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person,” Jesus starts. Got that?

Further, Jesus is the king of God’s kingdom. So don’t go figuring, as many Christians will, “If the king isn’t God, I guess the king would be Jesus, right?” What son of Jesus’s would he be throwing a wedding feast for? Stop trying to find a one-to-one matchup between the fictional characters of the parable, and real-life people. Jesus is talking about an idea here. Let’s let him get to his idea.

This king has a son, who will probably be his successor, the next king. His marriage was a big deal, ’cause such unions were expected to produce children, ensuring the next king would have his own successor. So this marriage feast is about the king’s dynasty; it’s a celebration of the king’s power. It’s a big deal if you attend.

It’s equally a big deal if you don’t attend. It means you defy the king and don’t recognize his power. Maybe you have another king. Maybe you wanna be king. These invited guests who ignored the king, or who murdered the king’s slaves: They were making a political statement, much like this line from Jesus’s New King Story:

Luke 19.14 KJV
But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.

That new king’s response?

Luke 19.27 KJV
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Don’t confuse that guy with Jesus either. Jesus was describing the sort of kings his audience was familiar with, not the sort of king he is. The kings of the earth are paranoid and murdery, same as Herod 1, who tried to kill baby Jesus. Our Lord isn’t like that, so don’t confound him with the bad behavior of the kings in his stories.

Like an easily-provoked dictator who freaks out at any hint of disrespect, this king was enraged at these invitees. Yeah, the open rebellion and the death of his slaves was an outrage, but he didn’t just kill the invitees; he fired their cities. He burned everyone in their hometowns to death over the insult. Does God kill the innocent along with the guilty? Abraham knew he absolutely doesn’t, Ge 18.23-25 and you’d think we Christians would know this too. Yet too many Christians nonetheless insist the king in this story represents God, and that he’s pretty darned wrathful… instead of love. Revealing, of course, they don’t know God as well as they claim. Nor Jesus, who reveals God as he truly is.

So if the king’s not God, but he is the kingdom, what’s the parallel here? Is it that God’s kingdom is angry and vengeful and only seeks power? Well… certainly the civic idolaters in Christendom do. But no, the point Jesus is trying to make is in his moral at the end. The rest of the stuff in his story is not gonna have an exact correlation between the activities of God’s kingdom, nor certainly God’s people.

But I will say those people who were invited to the wedding feast, who defied the king and his servants, do have some similarities to antichrists who want nothing to do with Jesus, his teachings, his kingdom, his followers, his God, anything. They still abuse and kill Jesus’s servants in nations where Christianity is a minority. They will receive judgment for it eventually. Meanwhile Jesus still offers ’em chances, much like the king sending his slaves to call ’em to the wedding feast yet again. Food’s ready! You’re still invited.

Open to all… but you gotta be prepared.

Most Christians don’t know how to deal with the underdressed guest at the end, who gets thrown out of the party and into darkness, weeping, and teeth-grinding. Those last three adjectives are commonly used by Christians to describe hell. So this is apparently someone who got into heaven, and shouldn’t have. But he’s been found out, so out he goes.

If you wanna take this parable literally… well, here’s the part where Christians put a pause on literalness and deliberately overlook the implications. Because somebody snuck past God. Somebody got around the heavenly security guards, got into the wedding feast, and was there getting his unbeliever stank all over the banqueting table. Y’know they ate with their hands back then; so here he is getting his dirty unwashed pagan fingers two knuckles deep into the hummus. Probably double-dipping too. So does this mean people could potentially get into heaven who need to get found out and tossed out? What if—yikes—you’re one of those people?

First, relax. Second let’s back up a few verses. In verse 8 the king points out his chosen guests weren’t worthy; in verse 9 he orders his slaves to go get anybody and bring ’em to the feast. Verse 10, they do so, and “gather everyone they find on the roads, both evil and good.” Jesus deliberately said πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς/ponirús te ke agathús, “evil—and also good” to point out the slaves definitely brought evil people to this feast. Not necessarily deliberately, but to make the point they weren’t being particular. At all. Everybody was welcome. No prejudice, no discrimination, not even commonsense: Everybody.

Because everybody is welcome in God’s kingdom. Because we don’t get in on goodness. We don’t merit our way in, earn our way in, rack up enough points to get in; we don’t have to be born into the right tribe, caste, class, or country; we don’t have to first get ritually circumcised. Jesus died to save the world, so the world can come in. That’s the point of this, and the Dinner Party Story, opening up their respective celebrations to everybody who will come.

But.

’Cause yeah, there’s a but. One which Christians tend to skip, because we’re so fixated on the awesome message of grace, and how we’re saved by it. And Jesus does teach we’re saved by grace; absolutely everybody is invited to these banquets, remember?

But Jesus does expect that once we’re in—once we’ve become the recipients and beneficiaries of God’s grace, once we’ve been included in his inheritance and are granted God’s kingdom—we live holy lives befitting our new status. We don’t take God’s grace for granted and remain the same dirty sinners we were before. We get fruity. We obey our Lord’s instructions and put on his lifestyle… kinda like putting on your good clothes to attend a wedding.

Years ago some Christian interpreter found out an ancient middle eastern king gave clothes to his people so they could dress more appropriately for a celebration. Hence a number of commentaries claim this was what the king meant by “Fellow, how’d you get in here not wearing wedding clothing?”—as if all middle eastern kings did this. But we’ve no evidence any king but the one did this; it’s a fluke, not a common custom. More likely the guest knew, as everyone knew, you wear your best to a royal function—and he didn’t. He had better, cleaner clothing. As was proven by the fact he “was struck silent”: He didn’t speak up and say, “But master, I’m dirt poor and have no other clothes”—he did, and didn’t wear them. He had no excuse. So out he goes.

When we stand before Jesus at judgment, the Lambs and Kids Story makes it sound like he’s not gonna bother to ask us to explain ourselves, much as we might really want to at that time. (I’m particularly amused by the pathetic excuses Keith Green offered in his song “The Sheep and the Goats”—“Oh Lord, that wasn’t our ministry Lord; we just didn’t feel led, y’know?”) He’s already decided which group we’re in. And if we really accepted his offer of salvation, really trusted him to save us, really acknowledged him as Lord, we’re gonna have tried. Christians who don’t even try, and don’t see why they even should try, aren’t legitimately Christian.

They’re the people who are gonna want to complain to Jesus after he returns—they wanna know why they didn’t get raptured along the rest of the Christians. (Assuming they even acknowledge he’s really Jesus. ’Cause if they didn’t get raptured, they’re gonna presume it couldn’t really be the rapture.) They’re gonna make such a stink, he’ll kinda have to have them cuffed, feet and hands, and thrown outside—where it’s dark, and where they’ll rage at him because they think he owes them something. Based on what? Their own prideful egos. Nothing more.

Matthew regularly points out, in both the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s parables, Jesus expects a lot of his followers. He’s saved us so that we needn’t worry about sin and death, and can solely concentrate on following him, without worrying we might slip up and lose our salvation. We’re not gonna lose it; apostasy means you deliberately quit, not unintentionally do something which cancels out God’s grace. But if we never even begin to follow Jesus, never develop any sort of relationship with him, never heed the Spirit… you’re not yet Christian. You never even got started putting together your wedding-appropriate clothes. It’s gonna make you stand out at the wedding like a man in a dog costume at a dog show.

So repent!

The prayer of Manasseh.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

Manasseh 1.1-15.

If you’re thinking, “Waitaminnit, there’s no book of Manasseh in the bible,” that’s true of most churches. It’s part of the apocrypha. Protestants and Catholics don’t include it in our scriptures, but since it’s in the Septuagint it is found in many Orthodox and Ethiopian bibles. There used to be a translation of it in English-language bibles, but when English Puritans started purging all the bibles of apocryphal books, Manasseh was taken out of the King James Version, along with all the other books.

Depending on the bible, sometimes it’s a separate prayer, and sometimes it’s made part of 2 Chronicles. No, we don’t know where the translators of the Septuagint got it.

It’s attributed to Manasseh ben Hezekiah, king of Israel. When he became king at 12 years old, 2Ch 33.1 he decided what we call “western religion” was not for him, and dabbled in pretty much everything else you could find.

2 Chronicles 33.3-7 KJV
3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. 4 Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever. 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. 6 And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. 7 And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God…

…and here the chronicler starts to rant about how he shouldn’t’ve done that. I’ll skip ahead.

2 Chronicles 33.11-13 KJV
11 Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. 12 And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

Here’s where the Septuagint inserted Manasseh’s prayer.

It’s a good prayer, which is why the ancient Christians kept it and used it. Every once in a while an Evangelical will come across it, won’t realize it’s apocrypha, and think, “Well that’s a pretty good prayer.” Might even use it for worship.

Happened years ago at one of my previous churches. Our worship pastor liked to pick a prayer from the bible for our Sunday morning scripture reading, and my guess is she was looking up bible passages on the internet. I made the slides, so she’d send me the passage… and one week she sent me a really long prayer “from 2 Chronicles” which had way more verses than that particular chapter usually had. I looked it up on Google and found it was Manasseh, in the New Revised Standard.

She was a little embarrassed that she picked a prayer which “isn’t bible.” But like I said, it is a good prayer. Like all the apocrypha, as Martin Luther once put it, there’s no reason we can’t read it and profit from it.

The prayer of Nehemiah.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 November

Nehemiah 1.5-11.

In the ’00s the prayer of Jabez got some attention with a popular book. It was quickly followed by other authors who were covetous of The Prayer of Jabez’s success, whose books probably didn’t sell as well for that reason. People realized they were knock-offs, whose authors only wanted to nitpick the Prayer of Jabez, or tried to teach us the same tired old things about having great success if we pray the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer. Or other such prayer tricks.

Of course God can’t be reduced to formulas. And not only might he tell us no, he has every right to. People who wanna sell a million books won’t necessarily teach this fact. Instead they’ll claim if we pray their favorite prayers, we’ll get stuff. Pray like Jabez and God’ll expand our territory. Pray the Jesus Prayer and receive peace. Pray the St. Christopher prayer and kids get protection. Pray the St. Jude prayer and get a yes to your hopeless cause. Pray the rosary and get special protection.

Basically do X, and now God owes us Y. And no, he doesn’t work like that.

To help this idea sink in a little, I remind you of the Prayer of Nehemiah, offered by Nekhémya bar Khakálya right after he heard what a mess Jerusalem still was.

Nehemiah 1.5-11 KWL
5 I said, “Please LORD, God of heaven, great God,
scary covenant-keeper, lover of those who love you and keep your commands:
6 May your ear now be attentive, your eyes open, to hear your slave’s prayer,
which I pray to your face daily and nightly over Israel’s descendants, your slaves:
I confess the sins Israel’s descendants sinned against you.
I and my father’s house sinned.
7 We hurt, hurt you,
and didn’t keep the commands, decrees, and rulings you sent your slave Moses.
8 Now remember the word you sent your slave Moses, saying,
When you trespass, I’ll scatter you among the nations.
9 Return to me, keep my commands, do them,
and even if you’re exiled to the heavens’ edge, I’ll gather you from there,
and return you to the place I chose where my name dwells.’
10 They’re your slaves, your people whom you rescued with your great strength and strong hand.
11 Please Master, have a listening ear for your slave’s prayer,
for your slaves’ prayer—we who wish to respect your name.
Please grant your slave success today.
Give me compassion before this man’s face”—
for I was the Persian king’s butler.

Though Nehemiah didn’t neatly sum it up as did the author of Chronicles, 1Co 4.10 God went along with his request, and Nehemiah got to go to Jerusalem and fix its problems himself.

The prayer of Jabez.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November

1 Chronicles 4.9-10.

Back in 2000 Bruce Wilkinson wrote a tiny little book called The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life. It sold like hotcakes ’cause it was a little tiny book you could find near the register, it was inexpensive and brief (and therefore perfect for Christians with ferret-like attention spans), and you could buy extras to give ’em to friends.

It contains a single sermon’s worth of material about an obscure ancient Hebrew by name of יַעְבֵּץ/Ya’ebéch, or as the King James Version calls him, Jabez. (The editions of the KJV which include pronunciation marks intend you to say dʒɑ'bɛz, but Americans nonetheless call him 'dʒeɪ.bɛz.) And here’s the short little passage the entire book is extrapolated from: Every last thing the bible has on Jabez. ’Tain’t much.

1 Chronicles 4.9-10 KWL
9 Jabez was heavier than his brothers.
His mother called his name pain/Jabez to declare, “I birthed him in pain.”
10 Jabez called on Israel’s god to say, “If you bless anyone, you bless me!
You made my borders lengthy. Your hand’s with me. You’ve kept me from evil, lest it pain me.”
God went along with whatever he asked.

Yep, that’s it. Don’t know his parents’ names, even though this story’s in the middle of a bunch of genealogical charts. We think he’s from Judah, and think he existed round the time of the conquest of Canaan, ’cause of the charts in chapter 4. But he’s not in those charts. There’s a city named Jabez, 1Ch 2.55 and maybe it was named for him, but that information isn’t of any help.

Yeah, how I translated the passage isn’t how people popularly translate it. First of all, they tend to translate נִכְבָּ֖ד/nikhbód, “was heavier,” as “was more honorable” (KJV) —possibly to match the Septuagint’s translation ἔνδοξος/éndoxos, “glorious.” Preachers sometimes say he was more honorable because of his prayer; other times say he was honorable first, and God answered his prayer because he was so honorable. Me, I point out the context—what’s that verse about? Jabez is called nikhbód, and got named ya’ebéch, because his mother birthed him in pain. Why was she in such pain? Because he was heavy. Way heavier than his brothers. When a mother squeezes a 12-pound kid out her birth canal, she never stops talking about it. It totally explains his name.

Likewise other translations take Jabez’s statement אִם־בָּרֵ֨ךְ/im barékh, “if [you’re] blessing” (or “unless you bless,” Ge 32.26), and turn it into a wish, “If [only you’d] bless…” like the Septuagint’s Ἐὰν εὐλογῶν εὐλογήσῃς με/Eán evlogón evloghísis me, “When you bless, you should bless me.” The whole passage gets transformed into a prayer request, like the NIV puts it:

1 Chronicles 4.10 NIV
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.

After all, if God granted his request, it’s gotta be a request.

It’s not. This is a prayer of thanksgiving. God had blessed this fat little baby, and grown him into a successful, influential person. His name meant pain, but God kept him from pain. He stretched out his mom; now God stretched out his territory. (Okay, I admit that last comparison’s a little gross. But you won’t soon forget it.)

So while the people snapping up The Prayer of Jabez read it and assume God granted all his wishes because he dared to pray big things, the rest of us can realistically understand this prayer ain’t a wealth formula. Jabez wasn’t asking for blessings; he was praising God after the fact, because God had blessed him. He was thanking God for his successes; he knew where his success really came from. Something many a wealthy Christian doesn’t always consider.

The power of prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 November

The power of prayer is God.

If that sounds kinda self-evident to you, great! You’d be surprised how many people don’t get this. I’ve heard from way too many Christians who treat prayer as if the act of prayer itself—the effort we put into saying rosaries, or reciting certain “powerful” rote prayers, or regularly blocking off an hour for prayer time, taking the proper posture, repeating the right incantations, and praying as nonstop as possible; and of course the faith necessary to trust that God grants prayer requests—“activates” prayer’s power. Like we just found the cosmic cheat code, to borrow a video game term. Pray just right, and receive points or rewards from the heavens.

But their teachings aren’t so much about the One who dispenses the rewards.

Well, they might go on about how these prayer practices please God, and that’s why he rewards us with stuff. Pray just right, and it’s like God’s a happy dog and you gave him just the best tummy rub, and we know his tail is wagging like crazy by all the blessings he showers down upon us. It’s so Pavlovian.

There’s not a lot of difference between this mindset, and “the Secret,” as pagans have recently repackaged the mind-science idea that we can create things with our words, same as God. Basically you proclaim your desires to the universe, regularly and earnestly, and believe with all your might you will someday have them. Lo and behold, they materialize. You’ve willed them into being. Your mind is just that powerful. Whether we call it “the Secret” or “the law of attraction” or “magic,” the only difference between them and their Christianist variant of naming and claiming, is we imagine God is part of this process.

But too often “the power of prayer” doesn’t acknowledge God as the power. Preachers keep talking about it as if we’re the catalyst, we’re the source, we’re the real power. We get God to move, ’cause of our faith and works. And we deserve these results, ’cause we earned the good karma and get to cash it in.

Slap all the Christian labels on it you please, it’s not Christianity. Power doesn’t come from human ritual, and never has. We should know by now if God isn’t the center and the point, our practices are dead religion not living religion. Dead faith instead of living faith. Meaningless instead of meaningful.

The Murderous Vineyard Workers Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 November

Mark 12.1-11, Matthew 21.33-46, Luke 20.9-19.

Most Christians think of Pharisees as the bad guys in the gospels, ’cause of how often Pharisees objected to Jesus, Jesus objected to them right back, and how Pharisees conspired with others to get Jesus killed.

Thing is, that’s only some Pharisees. Just like how the gospel of John showed Jesus getting opposed by “the Judeans” (KJV “the Jews”) —it wasn’t all Judeans, but some Judeans. He got along just fine with Nicodemus, Lazarus and his sisters, the guy who lent him the room for Passover, and lots of other Judeans; and he got just as much pushback from his fellow Galileans! Likewise not all Pharisees objected to Jesus. Ever notice how Jesus frequently taught in synagogue? Synagogues were a Pharisee thing; nobody but Pharisees had synagogues. Those Pharisees accepted Jesus. Likewise all the Pharisees who followed him (though sometimes poorly) after he was raptured, and became the Christians of the early church.

And the Pharisees weren’t the only bad guys. There were the Sadducees, Judea’s ruling class. In the Galilee there were the Herodians, the people who were perfectly happy to keep the Herod family in power, usually because it benefited them personally. And of course there were the Romans, who eventually killed Jesus.

When Jesus tells this story, it’s not just to Pharisees. It’s to members of the Judean senate: “The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders” Mk 11.27 who ran Jerusalem and Judea under the Romans’ occupation, whose job was to keep the peace lest the Romans kill them all. They considered Jesus a disruption, and Jesus considered them… well, what he calls them in this story.

He compares ’em to vineyard farmers who are utterly rebelling against their boss. Because the vineyard, they figured, was theirs. And the fruit was theirs. And the boss was never gonna return to deal with them, so they were free to run things however they liked, with no consequences. You know, pretty much like our elected officials run things now, despite the people who elect ’em.

Mark 12.1-11 KWL
1 Jesus began to tell the Pharisees parabolically,
“A person plants a vineyard, puts a wall round it,
digs out a winepress trough, builds a watchtower,
gives it to farmers, and goes abroad.
2 In time he sends a slave to the farmers,
so he might get fruit from the vineyard from the farmers.
3 Taking the slave, the farmers beat him,
and send him away with nothing.
4 Again, the master sends another slave to them;
they punch that slave in the head and insult him.
5 The master sends another; that one they kill.
He sends many others; some they beat, some they kill.
6 The master has one beloved son, and sends him to them last,
saying this: ‘The farmers will respect my son.’
7 These farmers tell themselves this: ‘This is the heir!
Come! If we kill him, we’ll be the heirs!’
8 Taking the son, they kill him
and throw him out of the vineyard.
9 So what will the master do with the vineyard?
He’ll come and wipe out the farmers, and give the vineyard to others.
10 Didn’t you read this writing?—
‘A stone which the housebuilders reject:
This is made into the cornerstone.
11 This is made by the Lord,
and to our eyes, this is amazing.’ ” Ps 118.22-23
12 The senators were looking to have Jesus stopped,
yet were afraid of the crowd.
For they knew the parable he told is about them.
Abandoning him, they left.

In all three synoptic gospels, the story comes right after the senators challenge Jesus in temple by asking him who sent him, and Jesus challenges ’em right back by asking them whether John the baptist came from God. Mk 11.27-33, Mk 21.23-27, Lk 20.1-8 They pretend to not know the answer; Jesus knows they totally do, ’cause they’re dirty hypocrites. They’re the same sort of hypocrites who killed the prophets, and in five days they were gonna sentence Jesus to death too, and have the Romans crucify him—thus fulfilling that part of the parable. The rest, where the boss wiped out the farmers, would be fulfilled in 37 years.