Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts

It’s 4 January. It’s still Christmas. Does this annoy you?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 January

Back in 2016 my church decided it was time to begin our 21-day Daniel fast… on the very first Sunday of the month. Specifically this was Sunday, 3 January 2016. Welcome back from the holidays, folks; no doughnut for you.

“Really not appropriate to schedule a fast for a feast day,” I pointed out to one of my fellow church attendees.

SHE. “Feast day? This is a feast day?”
ME. “It’s still Christmas.”
SHE. “Christmas was two Fridays ago.”
ME. “Christmas began two Fridays ago. And ends tomorrow. It lasts 12 days, remember?
SHE.What lasts 12 days?”
ME. “Christmas. Remember the song? ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…’ and each day the singer just kept getting more and more birds? ’Cause Christmas has 12 days.”
SHE. “Who celebrates it for 12 days?”
ME.I celebrate it for 12 days. I’m still eating cookies.”
SHE. “Well, you can do that if you like. I took the tree down the day after Christmas.”
ME. “You mean the second day of Christmas.”
SHE. [irritated scoff]

Tell many a Christian today’s the 11th day of Christmas, and this is the response you’ll get: The irritated scoff. To their minds, Christmas ended last month, and good riddance. They were so done with the holiday once Christmas dinner was over. And if they weren’t, the hassle of returning their Christmas gifts—or the credit card bill—did it for ’em.

Like I said back in my advent article, a lot of Evangelicals have adopted the mindset our popular culture foists upon us. To them, the Christmas season begins Black Friday, ends 25 December, and the rest is just aftermath and cleanup. Put the decorations away as soon as possible, ’cause it’s time to concentrate on the new year. And the stores are already selling Valentine’s Day items. (“Already? Are you kidding me?”)

But if you’ve burnt out on Christmas, it’s because you’ve not really been celebrating Christmas. You’ve been celebrating the awful Mammonist substitute the stores, secular television, and government grade schools peddle. Our churches unwittingly help ’em do it. All of us perpetuate the idea of a one-day holiday, a frenzy of gifts and toys and events, and a slapped-on veneer of “Remember the reason for the season!”

In fact Christmas is primarily about how Christ the savior is born. If you’re doing Christmas correctly, and someone brings up the word “Christmas” after the 25th, that’s the mental image which should’ve immediately popped into your mind. Not decorations, toys, and obligations. Jesus has come.

If your first response was to scoff… you did it wrong.

Pinpointing Messiah’s birthplace.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

Matthew 2.3-6.

Because the magi brought Jesus three gifts, Mt 2.11 people presume there were only three magi. We’ve no evidence of that. It seems way more likely there were a lot more magi than three. Three rich foreigners in Jerusalem would’ve caused a minor stir, ’cause rich people came to Jerusalem every day to go to temple. People therefore assume these guys came with massive entourages—dozens of camels per guy, hundreds of servants, as befit an oriental sultan. But again, these weren’t kings; they were magi seeking a king.

The actual king, Herod bar Antipater, wanted to know what this was all about, so he consulted his own wise men—the leaders of the Judean senate. This’d be the head priest, whom he appointed personally: Either Simon bar Boethus, Herod’s brother-in-law, who died that year; or Matthias bar Theophilus, who only served a year before Herod replaced him with Simon’s brother Joazar. The priests, whose field of expertise was the temple, not the Law, brought scribes with them.

Matthew 2.3-6 KWL
3 Hearing this agitates King Herod,
and all Jerusalem with him.
4 Gathering all the people’s head priests and scribes,
Herod is asking them, “Where’s Messiah born?”
5 They tell Herod, “In Bethlehem, Judea,
for this was written by the prophet:
6 ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are in no way the least of Judah’s rulers.
For a leader will come from you
who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Mi 5.2

For centuries, Pharisees had been collecting bible passages which they considered Messianic prophecies, which they believed foretold a great king who’d take over Israel, conquer the world, and inaugurate God’s kingdom. True, some of these “prophecies” were great big stretches. This one, which comes from Micah, isn’t really a stretch. Yeah, there are gonna be people who insist Micah was really talking about King David ben Jesse, who was also born in Bethlehem; that was the leader—a literal shepherd!—who eventually shepherded Israel. But no, Micah wasn’t speaking of David. He was speaking of a king like David, who’d rule till the end of the world. Mc 5.4 A much greater king.

Pharisees believed in a coming Messiah, but Sadducees didn’t—and the head priest, his family, and the chief priests who worked under him, were almost entirely Sadducee. But they weren’t unaware of what Pharisees believed, so when Herod asked ’em about Messiah, they could easily tell him what the Pharisees claimed: “Oh, he’s gonna be born in the next town over. In Bethlehem.”

The magi show up.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

Matthew 2.1-3.

A fact too many Christians forget is our words Messiah and Christ both mean king. We tend to translate these words literally—as “anointed [one]”—and forget what Jesus was anointed to do, and presume he was only anointed to save us from sin. He did that too, but he didn’t need any anointing for that. Anybody can do great things. But Hebrew and Christian custom is to anoint people to lead.

Because Messiah means king, you couldn’t just wander ancient Israel and call yourself Messiah. It’s a loaded title. It means you’re king. It also heavily implies the person who currently holds that job (unless he’s your dad and he arranged for your anointing, like King David ben Jesse did with his son Solomon 1Ki 1.32-40) is not king. Not the legitimate king, anyway. He’ll have to be overthrown.

In 5BC the king of Judea was Herod bar Antipater, and a lot of people were entirely sure he wasn’t the legitimate king. For the past century and a half the head priests had taken over the role of king, but 32 years before, the Romans made Herod king. He was neither a priest nor related to King David; he was an Idumean (i.e. Edomite) whose people had been grafted into Judea, and whose father worked for the Romans. God didn’t anoint him king; Marc Antony had.

And Herod was super paranoid about anyone who might try to overthrow him. ’Cause many had tried, and failed. Herod’s own family members, including his own kids, tried and failed. He knew the Judeans didn’t want him there. It’s why all his palaces were fortresses, in case he had to defend himself from his own countrymen; it’s why most of his bodyguard were Europeans, not fellow middle easterners. So you don’t wanna get on Herod’s bad side. Caesar Augustus used to joke he’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son. (Herod executed three of his sons, and since Judeans didn’t eat pork, Augustus’s comment was quite apt.)

How’d baby Jesus get on Herod’s bad side? Well, you might know parts of the story, and if you don’t I’m gonna analyze the story a bit. It begins with some people whom the KJV calls “wise men.” Contrary to the Christmas carols, these weren’t kings.

Matthew 2.1-3 KWL
1 At the time Jesus is born in Bethlehem, Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
look: Magi from the east come to Jerusalem,
2 saying, “Where’s the newborn king of the Judeans?
For we see his star in the east,
and we come to worship him.”
3 Hearing this agitated King Herod,
and all Jerusalem with him.

Triggering Herod was dangerous, but the magi didn’t know any better. More about Herod later, though if you want his backstory I already wrote about it.

These wise men are magi (Greek μάγοι/máyë) whom our nativity crêches tend to depict them as two white guys and a black guy, wearing either turbans or European-style gold crowns. Matthew states they came from the east, so they were Asian, not European and African. (“But they could’ve been Europeans and Africans who went east study with the magi!” Yeah, unlikely.) There’s also a common western assumption they were kings, but there’s no evidence of this.

Jesus, our Immanuel.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December
Jesus, our Immanuel.

Isaiah 7.14, Matthew 1.22-23.

In the middle of the Joseph story, the author of Matthew inserted this comment.

Matthew 1.18-19 KWL
22 (All of this happened so it could fulfill
God’s message to the prophet, saying,
23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,
and will birth a son,
and they will declare his name to be Immanúël,” Is 7.14
which is translated “God is with us.”)

So let’s jump from the first century of our era, to the eighth century BC, for that story.

If you’re not familiar with the nation of Ephraim, that’s because the writer of Kings preferred to call it “Israel.” It’s the nine northernmost tribes of Israel, which split from Jerusalem and were run by the king of Samaria. Back round the year 735BC, the king of Samaria, Peqákh ben Remalyáhu (KJV “Pekah the son of Remaliah”) joined forces with Radyán of Damascus, Aram (KJV “Rezin the king of Syria”) to attack Jerusalem. 2Ki 16.5 This was one of the first campaigns of the Assyro-Ephraimite War… which eventually destroyed Samaria. The Assyrians dragged all the cities of Ephraim into exile, and all the country-dwellers left behind either moved south to Jerusalem, or evolved into the Samaritans.

While Jerusalem was under seige, the prophets Isaiah ben Amóch and his son Sheüryahsúv had come to King Akház ben Yotám (KJV “Ahaz son of Jotham”) with good news from the LORD: Ephraim and Aram’s plans would ultimately come to nothing. But Akhaz—who wasn’t the most devout of kings—really didn’t know how to take the encouragement.

Isaiah 7.10-17 KWL
10 The LORD’s word to Akház, saying,
11 “Request a sign from your LORD God.
Make it deep as a grave,
or make it high as outer space.”
12 Akház said, “I won’t ask.
I won’t test the LORD.”
13 Isaiah said, “House of David, listen please.
It takes little for you to tire people,
because you also tire God.
14 For this, my Master himself is giving you a sign.
‘Look, a pregnant maiden gave birth to a son.
She declared his name Immánuël/‘God with us.’
15 He’ll eat curds and honey,
and learn to reject evil and choose good.
16 But before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good,
the nations you fear are laid waste
before the face of these two kings.’
17 The LORD is bringing upon you, your people, and your father’s house
days which haven’t been
since the days Ephraim turned away from Judah to Assyria’s king.”

God had Akház’s back. Proof? Little Immánuël. And Matthew quotes this prophecy because Jesus is like little Immánuël.

Joseph, father of Jesus, prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

Matthew 1.18-21.

The idea of Mary being a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, doesn’t work for a lot of people nowadays. “She was a virgin? Yeah right. She totally had sex with somebody. And then lied about it, and said God did it, and that sucker Joseph believed her.”

Clearly they’ve not read the gospels, because Joseph clearly didn’t believe her.

Matthew 1.18-19 KWL
18 The genesis of King Jesus is like this:
His mother Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph,
before coming to live together,
is found to have a child in the womb
from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her man Joseph, a right-minded man,
not wanting to make a show of her,
intends to privately release her.

Joseph knew you don’t just “have a child in the womb from the Holy Spirit.He knew how babies are made.

Greek myths abound of stories where Zeus disguised himself so he could have sex with Greek women, and produce théhi-human hybrid spawn who grew up to be famous Greek heroes. And more than likely, all the women who contributed to this myth of a horny god raping various noblewomen in the Greek Empire, had simply had sex with somebody, and blamed Zeus rather than suffer the usual consequences of non-marital sexual activity.

Of course if you read the myths, you’ll notice when women claimed Zeus impregnated them, the Greeks didn’t believe ’em either. They took out their outrage upon their wives and daughters all the same. Banished ’em, imprisoned ’em, sealed ’em in a coffin and threw them into the sea. (Then, say the myths, Zeus had to smite them for their unbelief.) The ancients knew exactly how babies are made. The “Zeus did it!” story never worked.

And the “God did it” story didn’t work on Joseph either. To his mind, Mary clearly had sex—and not with him. And she was trying to blame the Holy Spirit, of all people. But the Spirit isn’t Zeus! He’s not gonna transform himself into bulls and geese so he can rape silly teenage girls. The very idea is the most ridiculous, offensive sort of blasphemy.

Mary’s apparent infidelity and outrageous excuse aside, Joseph was what Matthew calls δίκαιος/díkeos, which the KJV translates “just” and the NIV “was faithful to the law.” It means as I translated it: Right-minded. He’s the type of person who always seeks to do the morally right thing. He didn’t wanna be vengeful, and expose Mary to public ridicule. He simply wanted this relationship to be over with.

Betrothals among first-century Israelis were a contractual agreement between the husband and wife’s families. (The husband would provide this, the wife that.) But all it took to end these agreements, was for the husband to declare, “I divorce you” three times, and bam, the contract was null, the couple would stop living together, and the wife would go back to her parents. So Joseph figured he’d do that. Not in the town square; probably just in front of their parents.

So yeah, let’s put aside this idea that the ancients were naïve idiots who’d believe such stories. They didn’t. Devout Israelis in particular, whose God isn’t at all like that. Joseph didn’t believe the virgin-conception story any more than any pagan nowadays.

But something flipped him 180 degrees—so much so that he legally adopted Mary’s kid and raised him as his own. This something was a prophetic dream—and from what we know about prophetic dreams, it wouldn’t have worked on Joseph unless

  1. he was stupid, or
  2. he had multiple experiences with prophetic dreams, and his experiences taught him they were reliable.

Me, I’m pretty sure it’s that second thing.

How Joseph became Jesus’s father.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 1.18-25.

The gospel of Luke tells of Jesus’s birth from Mary’s point of view, but Matthew does it from Joseph’s. Which is useful, ’cause it gives us a better picture of Jesus’s dad and what kind of person he is.

And let me preemptively say yes, Jesus’s dad. Way too many Christians try to downplay Joseph of Nazareth, and say he’s only Jesus’s foster father, only step-father, but his real dad is God.

No; Jesus’s biological dad is God. But God himself chose Joseph to be the guy to raise Jesus. And the guy who raises you is your actual dad. Doesn’t matter what custom and law say.

Although custom and law, in first-century Israel, likewise considered Joseph to be Jesus’s actual dad. And no, not because of any subterfuge on Joseph’s part; not because Joseph pretended to father Jesus or anything like that. Once you read the gospels, once you learn the historical background, you’ll realize Joseph is Jesus’s legal father. No foster- nor step- prefix needs to be added.

First the text.

Matthew 1.18-25 KWL
18 The genesis of King Jesus is like this:
His mother Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph,
before coming to live together,
is found to have a child in the womb
from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her man Joseph, a right-minded man,
not wanting to make a show of her,
intends to privately release her.
20 As he was thinking these things,
look, the Lord’s angel appears to him in a dream,
saying, “Joseph bar David, you shouldn’t fear
to accept Mary as your woman:
The child in her, fathered by the Spirit, is holy.
21 She will birth a son.
You will declare his name to be Jesus,
for he will deliver his people from their sins.”
22 (All of this happened so it could fulfill
God’s message to the prophet, saying,
23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,
and will birth a son,
and they will declare his name to be Immanúël,” Is 7.14
which is translated “God is with us.”)
24 After rising up from his sleep,
Joseph does as the Lord’s angel commands him,
and accepts Mary as his woman,
25 and doesn’t ‘know’ her till after she births a son.
Joseph declares his name to be Jesus.

The bit where the angel tells Joseph, “You will declare his name to be Jesus” in verse 21, and Joseph actually does this in verse 25? Naming a kid, in first-century Israeli culture, was something the child’s father, and only the child’s father, did.

Jesus’s genealogy, in 𝘔𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘸.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 December

Matthew 1.1-17.

Christ Jesus has two different genealogies. I dealt with it elsewhere, so if the contradiction (or “difficulty,” as Christians prefer to call biblical contradictions) makes you anxious, go read that piece. Today I just want to look at the genealogy in Matthew, ’cause the author of that gospel decided to begin with it, ’cause he considered it important. And away we go.

Matthew 1.1 KWL
The book of genesis of King Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham.

Other translations are gonna have “Christ Jesus” or “Messiah Jesus.” Mostly because they’re going for literalness; the Greek word is Χριστοῦ/Hristú, “Christ,” which itself is a translation of מָשׁיִחַ/Mašíakh, “Messiah.” But a literal translation isn’t always the best one.

Culturally, to first-century Israelis, Hristós doesn’t merely mean “an anointed guy.” It means king. It’s a title of the king of Israel—who was, if everything had gone as it shoulda, anointed by the LORD to rule his people, same as Samuel ben Elkanah had anointed Saul ben Kish and David ben Jesse. We Christians claim Jesus was anointed by God, same as those guys, to rule Israel. And the world. So Christ isn’t merely Jesus’s last name, nor does it signify he’s a religious guru. It means he’s our king. Our only king; human kings are usurpers and false Christs, and every last one of them has got to go. Even the nice ones. Especially the ones who claim they’ve come in Christ’s name.

Pharisees had readied first-century Israelis with tales of a Messiah who’d conquer the world. If the prophecies about him meant what the Pharisees claimed—and the Pharisees weren’t wrong, were they—this’d be the guy who finally threw out the hated Roman occupiers, established Israel’s independence, then went forth to conquer a ton of territory and establish a new Israeli Empire. One even better than the Roman Empire, ’cause now it wouldn’t be run by dirty gentiles. Now gentiles would be the second-class citizens in their new Empire. Semite supremacy!

Yeah, there was a lot of nationalism and racism wrapped up in Pharisee ideas about Messiah. Unfortunately that’s still true in popular interpretations about Jesus’s second coming. But I digress. Distorted perspectives aside, “King” is still the best interpretation of Hristú.

And though Jesus is a literal descendant of both David, the third king of Israel, and Abraham ben Terah, the ancestor of the Arabs, Edomites, and Israelis, the more important thing is Jesus is the fulfillment of their relationships with the LORD. Without Abraham’s faith in the LORD these people-groups wouldn’t even exist, much less be monotheists who pursued a living God instead of ridiculous pagan myths. Without David’s loyalty to God, the LORD wouldn’t have responded with any promise to make one of his descendants the greatest king ever. There’s a lot of theological baggage in Matthew’s simple verse.

There’s a fair amount of baggage in the rest of the genealogy too.

Scriptures for advent.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 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.

On the first advent.

When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son. Ga 4.1-5 God had good reason for delaying the first coming till that time.
The Carmen Christi: When Jesus made himself nothing. Pp 2.5-11 An early hymn about how God became human.
The ikon of the invisible God. Cl 1.15-20 Y’know how the LORD forbade graven images? It’s because he reserved that for himself.
Foreknown before the world was founded. 1Pe 1.17-21 The coming of Christ Jesus was always the plan. Not the backup plan.
The living word. Whom the apostles have seen. 1Jn 1.1-4 These guys weren’t writing hypothetically about God; they knew Jesus personally.

On 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.

Advent Sunday.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 November

Four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season begins with Advent Sunday. That’d be today, 27 November 2021. (Next year it’ll be 3 December. 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 the frequent appearances he makes here and there to various Christians and pre-Christians. It refers to the formal appearances: His first coming when he was born in the year 7BC, which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around in the future, when he takes possession of his kingdom.

Many Evangelicals have lost sight of this tradition, figuring it’s only a Catholic thing—as if Roman Catholics haven’t likewise lost sight of this tradition. In the United States we’ve permitted popular culture to define the Christmas season for us—and of course they prefer Mammonism. Gotta buy stuff for Christmas! Gotta buy decorations, and seasonal Christmas food and drinks, and go to Christmas parties and give Christmas gifts.

Popular culture reduces the advent season to advent calendars: Those 25-day calendars which count down from 1 December (not Advent Sunday, obviously) and every day you get a little piece of chocolate-flavored shortening, unless you splurged for good chocolate, or bought one of those advent calendars with different treats. Like the ones which consist of a daily bottle of wine—

Wine advent calendar. Sorta.
It actually turns out these bottles are table markers, but this photo’s been making the rounds of the internet described as an advent calendar. Still, you can easily find wine advent calendars on almost every wine-seller’s website. Pinterest

—which, if you drink it by yourself, probably means you’re an alcoholic. But the 25-day calendars are the only “advent” most Christians know about… and they’ve no idea they’ve been shorted four chocolates.

As for the rest of the Christmas season: Nobody’s getting ready for Jesus. We’re getting ready for Christmas. We’re getting ready for festivities and gift-giving. Wrong focus and attitude—meaning more humbug and hypocrisy, more Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen, and less Jesus and good fruit and hope.

You see the problem. It’s why so many Christians themselves don’t care for Christmas either. Too much humbuggery. Too much fake sentiment. Too many feigned happy smiles when really they don’t like what so much of the “season” is about.

So lemme recommend an alternative: Let’s skip the Christmas season, and focus on the advent season. Let’s look to Jesus. He’s coming back, y’know. Could happen at any time.

Heretics won’t believe the incarnation.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

1 John 4.1-6.

From time to time Christians ask me how I know whether someone’s an on-the-level Christian, or whether they’re a phony, a heretic, a hypocrite, or just generally on the wrong track. For two reasons, usually:

  • They honestly don’t know. And these guys make them nervous… and somehow I don’t, which is odd, but whatever. They’ve decided they can trust me enough to pick my brain.
  • They not-so-honestly do know, or think they know. So this is a test to see whether I believe as they do, and whether I can be trusted.

Let’s set the dishonest folks aside. The reason Christians get so nervous about heretics and wayward Christians is because most of ’em think if they follow the wrong guy, their salvation is in jeopardy. And they’re not wrong. They should be following Jesus!

Frequently I point ’em to 1 John. It’s a letter full of good commonsense advice about living in a fallen world, including a world full of Christians gone corrupt, ’cause that’s exactly what John had to deal with when he ran the church of Ephesus: Gnostics and heretics and antichrists. People who were trying to pull away some of the Christians of his church, who knew better but need a little reminding and a little encouraging.

“Spot the heretic” isn’t a complicated game when we know what Christians oughta believe. Problem is, so many of us know nothing. Or we’re looking for the wrong thing: We’re being very very careful to remain orthodox, or at least carefully conform to popular Christian culture. But in so doing, we’re not looking out for what Jesus warns us time and again to watch out for: Bad fruit.

So often, I’ve heard ignorant Christians say of fruitless, jerklike leaders, “But they believe all the right things.” They seem to have all their theological ducks in a row, so it’s okay that they’ve created little cults where you’re never allowed to ask them questions, nor be disloyal to them—as if our loyalty belongs to anyone but Christ Jesus alone.

Yeah, on the other extreme people will follow heretics because they’re such nice people. Because they’ve confused niceness with rightness. They’re not the same thing. My friendly waiter might never wash her hands; friendly or not, she’s wrong. As would I be if I decided to tip her with a tract instead of money.

But fruit counts. And orthodoxy counts. Christians oughta have both. Good works and faith in God. Obedience to Jesus’s commands and compassion and mercy and grace for those who flub those commands. John wrote about both. Read the letter sometime, and learn the importance of both.

Today’s passage focuses mainly on orthodoxy, but I figured I should first remind you both fruit and orthodoxy are important, lest you get the idea it’s just orthodoxy. You might also notice a little bit of good fruit comes up in this passage too. And of course Jesus’s incarnation—which is why I flagged it as a scripture for Advent.

1 John 4.1-6 KWL
1 Beloved, don’t believe every spirit!
Instead examine whether the spirits are from God,
because many fake prophets have gone forth into the world.
2 This is how you know God’s spirit: Every spirit is from God
who acknowledges Christ Jesus came in the flesh.
3 Every spirit is not from God
who doesn’t acknowledge Jesus is even from God.
And this behavior is of antichrist,
which you heard “is coming”: It’s already in the world. Now.
4 You children are from God, and you conquered them,
because the One in you is greater than what’s in the world.
5 They’re from the world, which is why they speak from the world,
and the world heeds them.
6 We’re from God. One who knows God heeds us.
One who’s not from God doesn’t heed us.
From this we identify the truthful spirit, and the erroneous spirit.

When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 December

Galatians 4.1-5.

There’s a verse in the bible about how “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” Ga 4.5 KJV Christians like to quote it ’cause it references the birth of Christ Jesus, the first coming of Jesus. It’s an advent scripture.

In context there’s a lot more to unpack, so I’ll unpack it. First the passage:

Galatians 4.1-5 KWL
1 I say for as long as heirs are children,
all of them are nothing more than a master’s slaves.
2 Instead they’re placed under nannies and butlers
until the father’s appointed time.
3 Likewise us. When we’re children, learning the basics of the universe,
we’re like slaves.
4 When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son,
birthed by a woman, birthed under the Law,
5 so he might redeem the Law,
so we might receive God’s adoption.

It’s used as a proof text for the incarnation, but it’s not actually about incarnation. It’s part of Paul’s explanation about the Christian’s relationship to the Law of Moses. As Paul regularly taught, the Law is a schoolmaster: It teaches us the difference between following God, between rightness and righteousness, and sin.

But now that Christ Jesus has come, we follow him, not the Law.

Not that the Law’s irrelevant! Nor nullified. But our relationship is with Jesus, so we follow Jesus. We’re saved by Jesus’s self-sacrifice and God’s grace, not the Law.

Foreknown before the world was founded.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

1 Peter 1.17-21.

God doesn’t have two wills, but he’s always had two plans, and they’re no secret. Plan A is that we follow him, do what’s right, love God and our neighbor, and live with him in his kingdom. Plan B, the one which has to get implemented far too often, is that we totally botch the job of following him, so he has to forgive us and give us yet another chance to follow plan A.

1 John 2.1-2 KJV
1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

When God created us humans, our sin didn’t blindside him. None of our sins make him throw up his hands and say, “Well I can’t fix that.” He already had plan B in mind; he already knew how he was gonna fix everything. He knew how to crush the serpent’s head. He’d become human and atone for our sins himself. That’s why our sins don’t drive him away, and never have. Jesus took ’em out. For all time, all of human history; from Adam and Eve’s sins, to Moses and the ancient Hebrews, to the apostles and the people of Jesus’s day, to ours, to our descendants’. There is no dispensation where Jesus’s atonement doesn’t yet apply. Because God always foreknew it.

The apostles knew this, which is why they regularly wrote of Christ Jesus being foreknown—that long before he did anything, the LORD knew Jesus would accomplish it, and acted as if it’s already done. God fills all of time, and from his eternal perspective, it is already done. He’s not just speculating about what might happen someday; he’s there, at that point in history, observing it in real time. It’s not guesswork. It’s certainty. He knows it—and because he knows it millennia before we do, we say he foreknows it, but that’s just a fancier way of saying he knows it.

Hence all the Old Testament’s prophecies of a coming Messiah, and what he’d do. Because the LORD already knew it, and was just telling the rest of us about his wonderful plans to save us.

1 Peter 1.17-21 KWL
17 If you call upon the Father,
who impartially judges us by each person’s work,
one who sojourns for a time among you must live in godly fear,
18 knowing no perishable thing, no silver nor gold,
frees you from your empty lifestyle nor heritage.
19 Instead, like that of a spotless lamb,
it’s the valuable blood of a blameless Christ.
20 Foreknown—really, from the foundation of the world—
and revealed to you all at the last times.
21 Faithful to God, by whom he was raised from death,
who gave glory to him,
so that your faith and hope are to be in God.

And here Simon Peter reminds the churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia about how our good works, though important, don’t save us and don’t establish our individual relationships with God. Christ Jesus does. Don’t put the cart before the horse; our relationships are entirely because Jesus died for us, and therefore we can call upon the Father, and he can empower us to do good works. The cart’s the works. The driving force is Christ.

It’s a lesson we Christians regularly need to be reminded of, ’cause it’s so easy to take pride in our good deeds, and think they’re what make us righteous. They don’t. Faith and hope in God do.

The Carmen Christi: When Jesus made himself nothing.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 December

Philippians 2.5-11.

Many scholars and historians think this part of Philippians is actually a hymn sung by ancient Christians. Possibly composed by someone other than Paul, and Paul was only quoting it when he and Timothy wrote Philippians. But if this isn’t the case, it nonetheless became an ancient Christian hymn, known in Latin as the Carmen Christi/“Christ hymn.”

In it Paul and Timothy told (or reminded) the Philippians that God became human, died for us, and will be exalted at his coming. “Christ Jesus is Lord,” to the glory of God the Father.

I really like the way the International Standard Version translated it, ’cause they made it rhyme. (It used to have a proper rhythm too. It doesn’t now, ’cause when they updated it, they swapped out “Christ” for “Messiah”—which means the very same thing, but whatever. I prefer the old meter, so I swapped it back in verse 11.)

Philippians 2.5-11 ISV
5 Have the same attitude among yourselves that was also in the Messiah Jesus:
 
6 In God’s own form existed he,
and shared with God equality,
deemed nothing needed grasping.
7 Instead, poured out in emptiness,
a servant’s form did he possess,
a mortal man becoming.
In human form he chose to be,
8 and lived in all humility,
death on a cross obeying.
9 Now lifted up by God to heaven,
a name above all others given,
this matchless name possessing.
10 And so, when Jesus’ name is called,
the knees of everyone should fall,
wherever they’re residing.
11 Then every tongue in one accord,
will say that Jesus Christ is Lord,
while God the Father praising.

This passage comes right after Paul instructed the Christians of Filippi, Greece, to work together. Not in competition—not even “healthy competition”—but submissively, taking others into consideration instead of looking out for number one. And as an example of submission, of working with people instead of against ’em, here’s Christ Jesus—who does it par excellence.

Christ Jesus’s attitude is that love takes priority over power, so he divested himself of that power and became human, out of his love for us. Therefore we likewise should prioritize others.

The ikon of the invisible God.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Colossians 1.15-20.

The apostles often dictated their letters, as you can tell from their big run-on sentences. This’d be one of them. I broke it up into sentences, as do most interpreters, but really it’s just one big eulogy Paul and Timothy wrote as they were greeting the Christians of Colossae, Phrygia Pacatiana (now ruins outside Honaz, Turkey).

In so doing they described how they thought of Christ, the Son of God. They identify they’re talking about the beloved Son in Colossians 1.13, then go into greater detail about who this Son really is: Ikon of God, firstborn of creation, through whom God created matter and power; firstborn from the dead, so he could be firstborn of everything; leader of the church, fully containing God within himself, reconciling all creation to God.

It’s a pretty cosmic description for a Nazarene handyman-turned-schoolteacher. But that’s our Jesus.

Colossians 1.15-20 KWL
15 The Son is the ikon of the invisible God,
firstborn of every creature,
16 so that by the Son everything in the heavens and on the earth is created,
the visible and the invisible (thrones, dominions, chiefdoms, or powers)
—everything was built through him and by him.
17 The Son is above everything,
and everything holds together because of him.
18 The Son is the head of the church’s body.
The Son is first.
Firstborn from the dead,
so that he might take first place in everything.
19 Because God is pleased in all fullness to dwell in the Son,
20 and by the Son reconcile everything to him,
making peace through him by the blood of his cross,
whether with things on the earth or things in the heavens.

The living word. Whom the apostles have seen.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 December

1 John 1.1-4.

Just as John introduced his gospel by pointing to the Word who became human, Jn 1.1-5 he also introduced his first letter by pointing to the living Word again. The Word who’s with God and is God, Jn 1.1 the Word who created everything in the cosmos, Jn 1.3 but specifically the Word who’s in the beginning. Jn 1.2 This is the person John proclaims, and writes about, to the recipients of his letter.

Some have argued John’s really writing about the Father. After all, the Father’s there in the beginning. But John wrote this person is with the Father, 1Jn 1.2 so he’s clearly not the Father. He’s a different person. So… which other person was with the Father in the beginning? Well there’s the Holy Spirit… but nah, John’s writing about Christ Jesus.

Yeah John doesn’t come right out and bluntly say he’s writing about Jesus. But did he really have to? Are we that dense? Well… maybe those of us who insist John’s writing about the Father. Everybody else, who isn’t trying to be contrary for contrariness’ sake, should have no trouble recognizing who John meant.

1 John 1.1-4 KWL
1 About the living word: He’s in the beginning.
We saw him with our eyes. We saw him up close and our hands touched him.
2 He revealed life. We saw it, witnessed it, and report it to you:
The life of the age to come which is with the Father, revealed to us.
3 We saw it, heard it, and report it to you all, so you can also have a relationship with us—
and our relationship is with the Father and with his son, Christ Jesus.
4 We write these things so our joy might be full.

The Five Stupid Teenagers Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 October

Matthew 25.1-13.

The Five Stupid Teenagers Story is also called the parable of the virgins, of the maidens, of the bridesmaids; of the wise and foolish virgins, or of the 10 virgins. Usually they’re called virgins ’cause that’s traditionally how people have translated παρθένοις/parthénis: A girl, or unmarried woman, and women back then used to marry mighty young. Like as soon as they attained legal adulthood, so 13 years old. Since they were unmarried, the usual assumption is in that culture they’d be virgins, which is a reasonable assumption. But parthénos was sometimes used in Greek literature to describe young women who weren’t virgins, like in the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes.

Maiden is alternately used to describe them, but maiden historically means the same thing as virgin. And in either case I’m not sure Jesus’s point had anything to do with their virginity nor marital status. More like with their youth. You know how some kids can be wise and clever, and some kinda dense and foolish? And how some kids can sometimes be one and sometimes the other? So, that.

So my translation focuses on their age as well: These are young teenagers, old enough to be responsible for themselves, but not all of ’em were necessarily mature enough. Kinda like Jesus’s own students. Kinda like newbie Christians.

Like all Jesus’s parables, this story’s about his kingdom, and since it’s part of his Olivet Discourse he’s talking about his second coming. Unlike dark Christian interpretations which are all about doom, tribulation, death, and hellfire, Jesus’s parables are about encouragement: He’s not returning to destroy the world, but save it. Get ready to join his entourage! Otherwise you’ll miss out on the fun parts.

We don’t know when Jesus is returning, and he instructs his kids more than once to stay awake and be prepared. This is one of those times. Dark Christians insist it’s about missing the rapture and going to hell. But the stakes are nowhere near that high in Jesus’s story.

Matthew 25.1-13 KWL
1 “Then heaven’s kingdom will be like 10 teenagers
who come out to meet the husband, bringing their own lamps.
2 Five of them are morons, and five wise,
3 for the morons who bring their lamps don’t bring oil with them.
4 The wise teens bring oil in flasks, with their lamps.
5 During the husband’s delay, all the teens fall asleep, and sleep.
6 In the middle of the night, a loud voice came:
‘Look, the husband! Come to meet him!’
7 Then all those teenagers rise and get their own lamps ready—
8 and the morons tell the wise teens, ‘Give us some of your oil,
because our lamps are out.’
9 In reply the wise teens were saying, ‘Likely there’s not enough for us and you.
Instead go to the oil-sellers and buy your own!’
10 And as they went away to buy, the husband comes,
and those who were ready, enter the marriage feast with him.
He closes the door.
11 Later, the remaining teenagers also come to the door,
saying, ‘Sir, sir, open it for us.’
12 In reply the husband says, ‘Amen, I promise you, I don’t know you.’
13 So be awake—because you don’t know the day nor the hour.”

The Wheat and Darnel Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Matthew 13.24-30, 13.36-43

Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus tells a story often called the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, from the word tares used in the King James Version to translate ζιζάνια/zidzánia, “darnel.” It’s a specific weed, Lolium temulentum, frequently called “false wheat.”

In ancient times darnel was constantly found in wheat fields. Some darnel always got mixed up with the wheat during the harvest, and it wasn’t until we invented separating machines that people finally got the darnel problem under control. Darnel looks just like wheat when it’s growing… but once the ears appear, any farmer will realize it’s not wheat at all. When they ripen, wheat turns brown and darnel turns black.

If it’s harmless, why did the ancients make a big deal about darnel? Because darnel is very susceptible to Neotyphodium funguses, and if you ate any infected darnel, the symptoms were nausea and a little drunkenness. (The temulentum in darnel’s scientific name means “drunk.”) And of course it might kill you. Hence people sometimes refer to darnel as poison.

So Jesus’s audience realized the serious problem these specific weeds posed. The rest of us, who only read “tares” or “weeds” in our bibles, not so much. Weeds are inconvenient, and use the water meant for our crops, but otherwise they sound kinda harmless, and it should be easy to sort them out, right? Um… not so much with darnel. And not so harmless.

Matthew 13.24-30 KWL
24 Jesus set this idea before his students,
saying, “Heaven’s kingdom is like a person scattering good seed in his field.
25 During his slaves’ sleep, his enemy came,
scattered darnel in the middle of the grain, and left.
26 When the shoots sprouted and bore fruit, then the darnel also appeared.
27 Going to him, the householder’s slaves told him,
‘Master, didn’t you scatter good seed in your field? So where’d the darnel come from?’
28 The master told them, ‘This was done by a person—an enemy.’
The slaves told him, ‘So do you want us to maybe pull them up?’
29 The master said, ‘No, lest pulling the darnel up uproots the grain together with it.
30 Allow them to both grow together till harvest.
At harvest time I will tell the harvesters, “Pull up the darnel first.
Bundle them into bundles for them to be burnt up.
Get the grain into my granary.” ’ ”

Later in the chapter, Jesus interprets his own story for his students. They really should’ve been able to interpret this story without his explanation—and probably did, but just wanted him to confirm their conclusions. I’ll get to that later.

The Lambs and Kids Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Matthew 25.31-46.

The next story in Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, where he taught his students about the End Times, is usually called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. It all comes from verses 32-33, in which Jesus compares the division of humanity into camps of righteous and reprobate, like a shepherd segregating his flock by species: Lambs on one side, kids on the other. One group to get shorn, one to get milked. Or in this case, one group to go one way, the other to go another.

This story terrifies legalists. Because outside the proper context of God’s grace, it looks like you get into God’s kingdom entirely on merit. You do for Jesus—or, as Jesus puts it, you do for the very lowest of the people he identifies with, which is all the same to him—and you inherit his kingdom. Or you don’t, so you go to hell. So get cracking! Start feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, reforming the prison and healthcare system, and otherwise fixing society!

Wait, is that what legalists do? Nah. Usually they’re too busy getting all paranoid about the rules they designated for themselves, or their cult leaders assigned them. Doing for society?—they don’t. Or they interpret “one of the least of these my brethren” Mt 25.40 KJV as only meaning fellow Christians—or, if they wanna get strict about it, only meaning members of their churches; or if even stricter, only church members of good standing. The stricter you get, the less you gotta love your neighbors. Funny how that works.

More often, Christians just ignore this passage altogether. We figure we’re saved by grace (which we are), but this passage sounds like we’re saved by good works. And we’re not. We know we’re not. We know that we know that we KNOW we’re not. So whatever this passage means, it can’t mean that… and we’re fine with not really knowing what it’s about, so we skip it. Unless we wanna terrify pagans with it.

Of course you realize I’m gonna apply historical context to it, and explain what it’d mean to Jesus’s students who heard it, and point out how entirely consistent it is with God’s grace. Probably to the degree it’ll outrage many a legalist Christian. But whatever. Let’s begin with my translation, and if you wanna compare it with other translations be my guest. I don’t think mine is far different.

Matthew 25.31-46 KWL
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the angels with him,
he’ll then sit on his glorious throne
32 and every nation on earth will be gathered together before him.
He separates them like a shepherd, lambs from kids,
33 and will place the lambs at his right, and the kids at his left.
34 The King will then tell those at his right:
‘Come, you who’ve been blessed by my Father!
Inherit the kingdom, prepared for you from the world’s foundation!
35 For I hunger and you feed me. Thirst and you water me.
A foreigner and you include me. 36 Naked and you clothe me.
Weak and you look out for me. Imprisoned and you come to me.’
37 In reply the righteous lambs will then say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and water you?
38 When did we see you a foreigner and include you, or naked and clothe you?
39 When did we see you weak and imprisoned and come to you?’
40 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you do for one of the lowest of these people in my family, you do for me.’
 
41 The King then says to those at his left:
‘Get away from me, you damned people!
Go to the fire of the age, prepared for the devil and its angels!
42 For I hunger and you don’t feed me. Thirst and you don’t water me.
43 A foreigner and you don’t include me. Naked and you don’t clothe me.
Weak and imprisoned and you don’t look out for me.’
44 In reply the kids will say, ‘Master?
When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a foreigner, naked, weak, or imprisoned, and not serve you?’
45 In reply the King will tell them, ‘Amen! I promise you:
Whatever you don’t do for one of the lowest of these, you neither do for me.’
46 These people will go to the correction of the age to come.
The righteous, to life in the age to come.”

The Textus Receptus added the word ἅγιοι/áyiï, “holy,” to verse 31, which is why the King James has “holy angels” instead of just “angels.” As if Jesus would bring unholy angels with him. But whatever.

The Talents Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 25.13-30.

Nowadays when we say talent we mean a special ability; something one can do which most others can’t. The word evolved to mean that, but in ancient Greek a τάλαντον/tálanton meant either a moneychanger’s scale, or the maximum weight you put on that scale. Usually of silver. Sometimes gold… but if the text doesn’t say which metal they’re weighing, just assume it’s silver.

Talents varied from nation to nation, province to province. When Jesus spoke of talents, he meant the Babylonian talent (Hebrew כִּכָּר/khikhár, which literally means “loaf,” i.e. a big slab of silver). That’d be 30.2 kilograms, or 66.56 pounds. Jews actually had two talents: A “light talent,” the usual talent; and a “heavy talent” or “royal talent” which weighed twice as much. But again: Unless the text says it’s the heavy talent, assume it’s the light one. And of course the Greeks and Romans had their own talents: The Roman was 32.3 kilos and the Greek was 26.

Using 2020 silver rates, a Babylonian talent is $30,200. So yeah, it’s a lot of money. Especially considering you could get away with paying the poor a denarius (worth $3.51) per day. Mt 20.2

When Jesus shared parables about his second coming, he told this story about a master with three slaves, each of whom was given a big bag of silver to supervise. And Jesus compared their experience to what our Master kinda expects of his followers once he returns.

Matthew 25.13-30 KWL
13 “So wake up!—you don’t know the day nor hour.
14 For it’s like a person going abroad:
He calls his slaves to himself, and hands them his belongings.
15 He gives one five talents [$151,000]
and one two [$60,400] and one one [$30,200]
—each according to their own ability. He went abroad.
16 The slave who got five talents went to work on them, and made another five.
17 Likewise the slave with two talents made another two.
18 The slave who got one talent burrowed in the ground
and hid his master’s silver.
19 After a long time, the master came to these slaves
to have a word with them.
20 At the master’s coming, the slave who got five talents
brought another five talents,
saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me.
Look! I made another five talents.’
21 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
22 At the master’s coming, the slave who got two talents
said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me.
Look! I made another two talents.’
23 His master told him, ‘Great! My good, trustworthy slave,
you’re trustworthy over a little, and I will put you in charge of much.
Come into your master’s joy.’
24 At the master’s coming, the slave who got one talent
said, ‘Master, I’ve come to know you as a hard person,
harvesting where you don’t plant, gathering from where you don’t scatter.
25 Fearfully going away, I hid your talent in the ground.
Look! You have what’s yours.’
26 In reply his master told him, ‘My useless, lazy slave,
you figured I harvest where I don’t plant and gather from where I don’t scatter?
27 Therefore you needed to put my silver with the loan sharks!
At my coming I would receive what was mine, with interest!
28 So take the talent away from him.
Give it to the slave who has the 10 talents.
29 For to one who has everything, more will be given, and more will abound.
And to one who hasn’t anything, whatever one does have will be taken away from them.
30 The useless slave? Throw him into the darkness outside.
There, there’ll be weeping and teeth gnashing in rage.’ ”

The word δοῦλος/dúlos tends to get translated “servant” (as the KJV did), but nope; it means slave. Hebrew slavery didn’t treat slaves as permanent property, but as people contractually bound to their master till the next Sabbath year. American slaves would rarely, if ever, be entrusted with as much authority as Hebrews did their slaves. Whole different mindset.

One who brings justice to the gentiles.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 December

Isaiah 42.1-4, Matthew 12.14-20.

After Jesus cured the man with the paralyzed hand, this happened.

Matthew 12.14-20 KWL
14 Going out, the Pharisees took a meeting about this—so they could have Jesus destroyed.
15 Jesus, who knew this, left there, and a great crowd followed him; he had cured them all.
16 Jesus had rebuked them, lest they reveal what he might do
17 so that he might fulfill the word from the prophet Isaiah, saying,
18 “Look at my servant whom I chose, my beloved. My soul approves of him.
I put my Spirit in him, and he’ll bring justice to the gentiles.
19 He won’t struggle or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He won’t split a broken reed, won’t extinguish smoking linen, till he can issue justice in victory.
21 Gentiles will put their hope in his name.” Is 42.1-4

Since Matthew quotes Isaiah and says Jesus fulfilled it, Christians presume this particular part of Isaiah is a messianic prophecy; that it’s specifically about Jesus. I may as well translate it too, instead of just translating Matthew’s translation of it:

Isaiah 42.1-4 KWL
1 “Look at my slave. I support him, my chosen one. My soul is pleased with him.
I put my Spirit upon him: Judgment goes forth to the gentiles.
2 He doesn’t cry out, doesn’t stir things up; his voice isn’t heard in the street.
3 He doesn’t break up crushed reeds, nor put out a dimming wick.
Judgment is issued to promote truth. 4 Likewise he doesn’t fade nor break down till he brings judgment to the earth.
The border lands await his instruction.”

Y’notice there are minor differences. No, not because I translated it differently; it’s because either Matthew was quoting a bad copy, or paraphrasing. (I prefer to think he was paraphrasing.) Matthew simply laid his ideas on top of Isaiah, same as Christians still do… and really shouldn’t.

Anyway, because Christians don’t understand what fulfillment means, again we assume the Isaiah passage is about Jesus. It’s actually not. It’s about Israel. The LORD specifically said so in the previous chapter of Isaiah.

Isaiah 41.8-9 KWL
8 “And you, my slave Israel, Jacob whom I chose, my beloved Abraham’s seed:
9 I seized you from the land’s end, called you one of its chiefs, and told you,
‘You’re my slave, my chosen. I don’t reject you.’ ”

No, he didn’t switch from Israel being the servant he meant, to Messiah being the servant he meant, in the course of a few verses. He was still telling Isaiah about Israel. He’s gonna put his Spirit on Israel and use the nation to promote justice among gentiles. True, Israel isn’t currently doing the best job of promoting justice towards anyone but fellow Israelis. But I don’t figure this prophecy is describing the present day anyway.

The LORD has big plans for Israel—and for Jesus as Israel’s king. So it’s entirely likely this prophecy refers to Israel when it’s finally following its Messiah during his millennium, after his second coming.

Meanwhile Matthew jumped the gun a little, ’cause though Jesus was starting his kingdom it hasn’t come yet. (Keep praying for it!) So in what way did Jesus fulfill this Isaiah passage in the first century?