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

15 February 2019

No, Jesus didn’t declare all foods clean.

The things people will do for bacon… including twist the scriptures.

Mark 7.19.

Mark 7.17-19 NIV
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Jesus has an actual point to make with this passage, but a number of Christians skip it altogether because of how they choose to interpret it. Namely they take the clause καθαρίζων πάντα τὰ βρώματα/katharídzon pánta ta vrómata, “cleansing [out] all the food,” chop it off the sentence Jesus was speaking, and turn it into the declaration, “All the food [is] cleansed.”

This spin isn’t just found in the NIV either:

ASV.This he said, making all meats clean.”
AMPLIFIED. “(By this, He declared all foods ceremonially clean.)”
CSB.(thus he declared all foods clean).”
ESV/NRSV. “(Thus he declared all foods clean.)”
GNT. “(In saying this, Jesus declared that all foods are fit to be eaten.)”
MESSAGE. “(That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)”
NASB. “(Thus He declared all foods clean.)”
NET. “(This means all foods are clean.)”
NLT. “(By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)”

It’s not found in every bible. A number of ’em take Wycliffe and the KJV’s lead, and use some form of their “purging all meats.” I did too:

Mark 7.19 KWL
“Because it doesn’t enter their heart, but into the bowels, and comes out into the toilet.
All the food gets cleaned out.”

I did it because that’s the literary context. Katharídzon pánta ta vrómata isn’t a sentence fragment Mark inserted to interpret Jesus’s teaching; it’s a clause that’s part of the teaching. Jesus is explaining how food goes in the face, goes out the butt, goes down the toilet, and doesn’t corrupt the heart like our depraved sinful nature can. So when Pharisees fixated on external ritual cleanliness, they were missing the point.

Kinda like we miss the point when we insist this passage is all about how there are no longer any kosher rules… so now we can eat fistfuls of pork.

13 February 2019

Jesus’s list of works of the flesh.

Paul’s not the only one who put together a list, y’know.

Mark 7.17-23 • Matthew 15.15-20.

Every so often I bring up a fruit of the Spirit (like grace) or work of the flesh (like gracelessness) —and it’s one Paul didn't list in Galatians 5. And every so often I’ll get pushback from a Christian who’s got those Galatians lists memorized: “Waitaminnit, that’s not one of the fruits of the Spirit.” Yeah it is. Paul didn’t write a comprehensive list. ’Twasn’t his intent.

Sometimes it’s an honest mixup. More often it’s because they don’t want any more good or bad fruit added to the list. ’Cause it either means there’s more we have to do, or more we can’t do. Fewer fleshly behaviors we can get away with; more character traits we really oughta build. Limiting these lists to Galatians alone provides us Christians a handy Pharisee-style loophole for our spiritual growth only going that far—and no further.

But. In addressing the very problem of Pharisees and their loopholes, and how Pharisee customs let ’em get away with violating God’s Law, Jesus had to explain to both his students and the crowd how evil comes from within, not without. It’s not what goes into a person that makes ’em ritually unclean; it’s what comes out. Evil attitudes, intentions, and behaviors defile us. And all of ’em come from the inner person. From the flesh.

Pharisees believed and taught evil comes from the outside in. Entirely wrong. Humans are inherently selfish. But we wanna justify our selfishness so we can (selfishly) feel good about ourselves despite all the destruction we wreak by our self-serving behavior. The result is pretty much all the evil in the world. (The rest come from natural disasters—some of which human behavior has also produced.)

First problem Jesus ran into was his students telling him the lesson had offended the Pharisees. Well, Jesus explained, they’re blind guides. They think they understand God; they really don’t; there’s no telling them anything; forgive it as best you can. Pity the fools.

Second was the students not getting it. They thought this was a parable. It’s not, and Jesus had to spell out how this is one of those instances you gotta take him a little more literally than usual.

Mark 7.17-18 KWL
17 From the crowd, once Jesus entered the house, his students were asking him what “the parable” meant.
18A Jesus told them, “You also don’t understand this?”
Matthew 15.15-16 KWL
15 In reply Simon Peter told Jesus, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 Jesus said, “You also don’t understand yet?”

Hey, when it’s a wholly new idea to your culture, sometimes it’s slow to sink in.

12 February 2019

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

What spiritual blindness looks like.

Matthew 15.12-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriate comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL
12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

11 February 2019

Evil comes from within.

Don’t be so naïve as to think we don’t have any evil in us.

Mark 7.14-16 • Matthew 15.10-11.

So Jesus is lunching with some Pharisee, who has a snit about how he and his students don’t ritually wash when they enter a home, and Jesus turns round and complains how some Pharisee rituals violate the Law.

Now you do recognize it’s a common weaselly debate tactic to change the subject by attacking your opponent, but you should realize Jesus is no weasel: This wasn’t changing the subject, but getting to the very heart of why the Pharisee complained about hand-washing. He wasn’t insisting on it ’cause it offended his sensibilities, his religion, his devotion. He was doing it because it didn’t look good, which is hypocrisy of course. Too much of Pharisee custom was about appearing to follow the Law, but really following custom; the Law not so much.

And as for ritual cleanliness, Jesus wanted to make it obvious the ritual didn’t make anybody or anything clean. The ritual—like all rituals, including Christian rituals—only represents what it purports to do. Ritual cleanliness represents spiritual cleanliness. It’s not the same thing. As proven by any hypocrite—who might be so physically clean you could lick chocolate pudding off his hands, but so nasty inside you never would.

So Jesus took a little break from dinner and went to bring this up with the public:

Mark 7.14-16 KWL
14 Calling the crowd again, Jesus told them, “Everyone listen to me, and put this together.
15 There’s nothing outside a person going in, which can make them ‘common.’
But what comes out of a person is what defiles the person.
[16 If anyone has hearing ears, hear me.”]
Matthew 15.10-11 KWL
10 Calling the crowd, Jesus told them, “Listen and put this together.
11 It’s not what goes into the mouth which makes a person ‘common.’
But what comes out of the mouth—this makes a person ‘common.’ ”

Mark 7.16 isn’t in the oldest copies of Mark; it first showed up in bibles in the 300s, and Jesus did say those words a number of other times. Mk 4.9, 4.23, Lk 8.8, 14.35

I remind you this idea that we’re corrupted from the outside-in: Wasn’t just a popular Pharisee belief. Humans have always taught it. Christians frequently still teach it. Every time we warn our kids about corrupting outside influences—“Be careful, little eyes, what you see”—it’s based on the idea evil comes from without. Not within.

It’s based on Pelagianism, the idea humans are basically good. Pelagians figure God created us and called us good, Ge 1.31 and it’s only pessimistic Christians like St. Augustine, corrupted by Plato’s ideas about how matter is bad, who overlaid his ideas into Christendom and invented total depravity—humans are too selfish and messed up to turn to God without his help. Humans may do evil, but that’s way different from claiming we inherently are evil, been that way since birth; they can’t accept that idea at all.

Well of course they can’t. ’Cause the human self-preservation instinct won’t allow us to believe anything negative about ourselves. No matter what evidence we’ve been shown to the contrary. No matter what Jesus, his apostles, and the scriptures teach us. We choose to believe what makes us feel good about ourselves—and reject history, commonsense, and all the sins we ourselves commit. That’s just how total our depravity is: It inherently makes us not wanna believe in it. It’s no wonder people don’t cry out to Jesus for help: Humanity is in serious denial about how badly we need a savior.

And even when Christians claim we believe in human depravity, some of us think the instant Jesus saved us, and the Holy Spirit entered us, we were cured of our depravity. We used to be self-centered and corrupt, but once we became Christian we’re good. We don’t need to unlearn bad behaviors and grow the Spirit’s fruit; we already have his fruit and are doing just fine. We don’t have to put on God’s new nature Cl 3.10, Ep 4.24 —it’s already on! And so we’re in the very same boat as Pelagians… but hey, at least we’re orthodox.

Yep, that’s also a product of our total depravity. There’s good reason theologians describe it as total: It’s everywhere.

31 January 2019

Jesus critiques the Pharisees’ loopholes.

So gross. But not a violation of the Law; let’s get that clear.

Mark 7.6-13 • Matthew 15.3-9 • Luke 11.37-41.

So I mentioned when Jesus was accused of not washing his hands, we’re not talking about the kind of washing we do before we leave the bathroom. This was a ritual thing: Stick your arms in a barrel of water, lift them as if to pray (but prayer is optional), then go on your way… with wet hands. It was a Pharisee custom, loosely based on the ritual washing in temple. Had little to do with actual washing; it was barely hygienic. Not commanded in the scriptures either, so Jesus didn’t bother with it. His students likewise.

And when Jesus was challenged about it, he responded by challenging the Pharisees right back.

Mark 7.6-8 KWL
6 Jesus told the Pharisees and scribes, “Just as Isaiah prophesied about you hypocrites—
like he wrote, ‘This people revere me with lip-service. Their hearts keep far away from me.
7 They worship me meaninglessly, teaching human decrees as if they’re my teachings’ Is 29.13
8 —you dismiss God’s command and cling to human tradition,
washing pots and cups, and doing many similar such things.
Matthew 15.7-9 KWL
7 “Hypocrites. Just as Isaiah prophesied about you, saying,
8 ‘These people revere me with lip-service. Their hearts keep far from me.
9 They worship me meaninglessly, teaching human decrees as if they’re my teachings.’ ” Is 29.13

Matthew has Jesus say this right after his criticism about Pharisee custom, and that last line of Mark 7.8 is actually from the Textus Receptus, not the oldest copies of Mark. That’s why you’ll find it in bible footnotes and the KJV. It’s a little redundant… and probably got added by some monk who was sick of having to do the dishes every night.

Jesus is briefer in the other gospels, but he has much the same objection: Exactly like Christianists, too many Pharisees had replaced God’s commands with their customs and loopholes.

Our culture tends to presume Pharisees were legalists, so that’s what “pharisee” means to a lot of people: Someone who’s so fixated on the rules, they don’t bother with grace. And yeah, sometimes Pharisees got that way, particularly when it came to Sabbath. But sometimes the early Christians also got so hung up on rules, we forgot grace. ’Cause all humans make that mistake.

But read your bible again: Other than their spin on honoring the Sabbath day, Jesus’s critiques of the Pharisees were regularly, consistently about their loopholes. About how they claimed to follow the Law, but their elders’ rulings permitted them to bend and break it all the time. They only pretended to follow God. That’s why Jesus kept calling ’em hypocrites: Their religion was fake. The outward trappings of Yahwism with none of the real commitment—and a seriously damaged relationship with the LORD.

’Cause if they really knew the LORD, they’d’ve quickly recognized his Son. Jn 8.19 Not tried to get him killed.

So in the rest of the following article: If you happen to see a whole lot of parallels between the Hebrews of Isaiah’s day, the Pharisees of Jesus’s, and the Christians of ours, y’ought not be surprised. Times change, but people still sin, and hypocrites still try to fake true religion.

23 January 2019

Jesus didn’t wash his hands before eating. Eww.

So gross. But not a violation of the Law; let’s get that clear.

Mark 7.1-5 • Matthew 15.1-2 • Luke 11.37-38.

Sad to say, your average Christian knows little to nothing about what’s in the Law, the commands the LORD handed down to Moses and the Hebrews in the desert. If they’re on a bible-reading plan, they skim the commands in Exodus through Deuteronomy ’cause they’re looking for the stories. The rest, they consider as effective a sleep aid as melatonin.

This is bad enough considering God still expects us to follow certain relevant commands. But when it comes to studying Jesus, these Christians don‘t know the difference between an actual, God-mandated command… and Pharisee tradition. So when Jesus butts heads with Pharisees ’cause he violated something, Christians regularly and wrongly assume Jesus was violating God’s commands.

In other words sinning. Which he never, ever did, no matter how much he was tempted. He 4.15 But weirdly, we imagine it was okay for Jesus to violate the Law, ’cause he was only violating the commands he nullified. The commands we ignore, ’cause didn’t Jesus come to do away with the Law? Absolutely not, Mt 5.17 but you try telling an irreligious person that Jesus expects ’em to behave themselves.

Jesus never violated a command. Never once. Never ever. For two reasons.

First, sin is defined by the Law. Break a command, even one of the little ones, and you sinned. Ro 7.7-12 And Jesus never sinned. 1Jn 3.5 Had he, he wouldn’t be able to die for our sins: He’d have to die, same as everyone, for his own sins. And if Jesus never paid off our sins, we’re never getting resurrected. When we die, we stay dead. No kingdom. No New Jerusalem.

Second, Jesus is God. The same God, the LORD Almighty, who handed down the Law in the first place. It’s his Law. Breaking his own Law goes against his very nature. He doesn’t get any special God-loophole so “it’s not a sin when Jesus does it.” If that were so, it’d be utterly meaningless when the apostles point out Jesus didn’t sin.

So let that sink in: Jesus never violated the Law. He taught us to follow his Law. His kerfuffles with Pharisees were never about breaking the Law: They were about violating the way Pharisee elders interpreted the Law. Jesus had his own interpretations—because he knew precisely what he meant when he handed down these commands in the first place. His view was the old wine, which is better. Lk 5.39 The Pharisee view was a more recent spin on the commands than the LORD’s original intent, i.e. new wine.

So today we’ll get into one of those disagreements Jesus had with Pharisees. Specifically about their custom of washing before meals.

…Which, when you think of it, is also our custom. And kind of an important one. Because we frequently eat with our hands. Apples, grapes, sandwiches, carrots, pizza, nachos, burritos… we don’t use utensils as often as we imagine. And Jesus’s culture used utensils for food preparation and serving, but eating was done with your hands. Even when you scooped out wet food… from the same bowl as everyone else. You’d better have clean hands.

But it seems Jesus was having a meal with Pharisees, and nobody saw him or his kids wash their hands. Understandably they made an issue of it. As would we. Even if it is Jesus. “Um… aren’t you gonna clean up first? I mean, you’ve been touching lepers…”

16 January 2019

When Jesus loses students.

When people can’t commit to Jesus, they’re not Christian. No matter how much they still do.

John 6.59-71.

So Jesus gave this big ol’ lesson on being the living bread who wants to save us—and expects our response to be a deep commitment. You gotta eat the living bread. And no, this doesn’t mean holy communion; this means really being one with Jesus. Really following him.

Tough teaching for a classroom of people who only wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans for them, then give ’em free bread. Tough teaching for Christians nowadays, who only wanna live worry-free lives, then go to heaven and live in mansions. God did all the work of saving us, so they figure he can do all the work of everything else in Christendom. These folks don’t wanna actually do anything for God; they want cheap grace and passive Christianism. There’s not much difference between our motives.

But there is a big difference in our responses: The Galileans left.

Whereas Christians nowadays will say yes and amen, and pretend we’re all for the idea… then go out and demonstrate by our lifestyles we don’t believe a word of it… but be back in church every Sunday morning acting as if we do. Lemme keep being blunt: Both these behaviors are forms of apostasy. The only difference between the Galileans who left Jesus, and the Christians who pretend we’re still on board, is our rank hypocrisy. The Galileans at least had the balls to admit they were outa there.

Anyway back to the text, where the Galileans are on the fence about Jesus… so Jesus gives the fence a shake.

John 6.59-66 KWL
59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
60 So, many of his students who heard him said, “This word is hard. Who can listen to it?”
61 Innately knowing his students kvetched about this, Jesus told them, “This upsets you?
62 So what about when you see the Son of Man rise to where he previously was?
63 It’s spirit which makes you alive; flesh gets you nowhere.
The sayings I tell you are spirit—are life 64 but some of you don’t believe me.”
For Jesus knew from the beginning some didn’t believe—and one was his betrayer.
65 Jesus said, “This is why I told you nobody can come to me
unless they were given me by the Father.”
66 As a result of this lesson, many of his students went home and no longer followed him.

See, Jesus doesn’t want lukewarm followers. He wants us to be fruity. He wants people who connect with him, abide in him, pick up their crosses and follow him. Anybody who doesn’t wanna: It’d be best if they went home.

26 November 2018

Jesus came from heaven? And you gotta eat him?

The level of commitment Jesus expects of his followers: You gotta eat the bread of life.

John 6.41-60.

Jesus pointed out he, not the stuff he and his students fed the 5,000, not the manna the LORD fed the Hebrews, is bread from heaven. Living bread. Stuff you eat and live forever. Don’t seek temporal, earthly bread. Seek him.

It’s a metaphor, of course, for a relationship with Jesus. One the Galileans and Judeans, steeped in a culture (and a bible) full of metaphors, shoulda understood. One we should understand too… but of course not all of us do, and I’m gonna get into that a bit today.

But at this point in the story, the Galieans appeared to be tracking with Jesus so far. Their objection—the reason they eghóngyzon/“grumbled” (KJV “murmured”) about Jesus teaching this—wasn’t because they misunderstood what he meant; they totally understood what he meant. Their problem was he was talking about himself. Who, they were agreed, was probably a big deal; probably the End Times prophet. But “comes from heaven”? Waitaminnit.

John 6.41-42 KWL
41 So the Galileans grumbled at Jesus because he said “I’m the bread who comes from heaven,”
42 and said, “Isn’t this Jesus bar Joseph? Don’t we know his father and mother?
So how does he say he’s come from heaven?”

If somebody claims, “I came from heaven,” our knee-jerk reaction is naturally, “No you didn’t.” Doesn’t matter how much you know them, how much you like them, how much anything—the only people in the highest heaven are God, the angelic beings round his throne, and those few people he raptured before the resurrection, like Elijah. (We presume a few people because only three get a mention in the bible. For all we know God might’ve raptured way more. But that’s pure speculation.) Nobody can come from heaven but those beings—and we’re quite sure our claimant isn’t among them. Likewise the Galileans and Jesus: Of course he didn’t come from heaven. He was born. He has parents! They knew his parents.

Yeah, Christians are fully aware Jesus existed before his conception, ’cause he’s God. We get how he came from heaven, yet was born. We tend to take that belief for granted. But that was a wholly foreign idea to the Galileans, who presumed God would never do such a thing. He’s almighty, he’s sovereign, he’s dignified… he’s not a man, like Moses said, Nu 23.19 and they figured he’d never stoop so low as to become one.

So the Galileans had to wrap their brains around that one. But Jesus doubled down.

John 6.43-46 KWL
43 In reply Jesus also told them, “Don’t grumble among yourselves:
44 Nobody can come to me unless the Father, my Sender, draws them,
and I will resurrect them on the Last Day.
45 In the Prophets it’s written, ‘And they’ll all be taught by God’: Is 54.13
All who hear and learn from the Father, come to me.
46 Not that they saw the Father—
except the one from God; this man has seen the Father.”

So not only is Jesus claiming he’s from heaven, but he’s gonna resurrect everybody. Which wasn’t at all what the Pharisees taught about the End Times prophet, nor Messiah, nor anyone. Jesus is making some mighty cosmic claims for himself.

And this, folks, is why they couldn’t believe in Jesus. Not because they mixed up his bread metaphors.

19 November 2018

The living bread wants to save us.

Come to Jesus and never go “hungry” again.

John 6.30-42.

To recap: Jesus is the living bread, and wants people to pursue him instead of ordinary bread—or any other ordinary material possession which gets used up, goes moldy or stale, or otherwise perishes. He wants an eternal relationship with us. Whereas sometimes all we seem to want of him too often are the fringe benefits of heaven.

So went the discussion Jesus had with the Galileans who sought him after he and his students fed 5,000. (John refers to them as Yudaíoi/“Judeans,” people from Judea who settled the Galilee centuries after the Assyrians drove the northern Israeli tribes out. I stuck with “Galileans” because obviously they’re Galilean Jews—same as Jesus.) The Galileans figured he was the Prophet from the End Times because he fed ’em bread like Moses fed their ancestors manna. Like they say here.

John 6.30-31 KWL
30 So they told Jesus, “So what miracle are you doing so we can see it and trust you?
What’d you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.
Like it’s written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Ps 78.24

As I said previously, it wasn’t because they wanted a handout of free manna. It’s because being able to do such a miracle proved to them the End Times had come, and they oughta follow Jesus ’cause he was about to overthrow the Romans. Of course their timeline—and motives!—looked nothing like Jesus’s.

So he threw ’em for a loop by stating something which they’d immediately think was incorrect.

John 6.32-34 KWL
32 Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven.
Instead my Father gives you actual bread from heaven.”
33 For God’s bread is the one coming from heaven, giving life to the world.”
34 So they told Jesus, “Master, give us this bread, always.”

Whenever Jesus says “Amen amen” (KJV “verily, verily,” NIV “Very truly,” NJB “In all truth”) he’s not kidding. Not lying, not exaggerating; you can take this statement to the bank. It might be a metaphor though. But it’s still entirely truthful, which is why I interpret légo ymín/“I tell you” as “I promise you.” And what he promised ’em was manna isn’t bread from heaven. He is.

Thing is, biblical literalists are gonna insist manna totally is bread from heaven. ’Cause the LORD Ex 16.4 and Nehemiah Ne 9.15 said so! Asaph wrote this in Psalms!

Psalm 78.23-25 KWL
23 God commanded the clouds from above. He opened the heavens’ doors.
24 God made manna to rain down upon them, to eat. He gave them the heavens’ grain.
25 People ate potent bread. God sent them abundant food.

(The word “potent” in verse 25 translates abirím, which means “stallions” or “bulls”—basically any uncastrated animal, who’s mighty strong, but sometimes hard to control. You know, like Hebrews. Pharisees were a little weirded out by that idea, so in the Septuagint they changed it to árton angélon/“angels’ bread” in the Septuagint, even though abirím isn’t translated “angels” anywhere else in the bible. But that’s why we find “bread of angels” in most English translations. Turns out our translators are just as squeamish about testicles. But I digress.)

Obviously Asaph wrote poetry, and was being hyperbolic, as poets will. But literalists don’t know and don’t care what hyperbole is, and only wanna fixate on their favorite literal interpretation: God gave the Hebrews angel food! As if spirits eat. Wasn’t the whole point of Jesus eating after his resurrection to prove he’s not just a spirit, ’cause spirits don’t eat? Lk 24.38-43 Why would any angel need to eat manna?

Manna comes from heaven in that God, who’s in heaven, provides it. But it doesn’t literally come from heaven, as Jesus correctly points out. Get off the manna. ’Cause he’s offering us actual heavenly bread—and again, that’s a metaphor, but one we shouldn’t struggle to understand like the Galileans did.

12 November 2018

Seek the living bread! Accept no substitutes.

Because some of our visions of New Jerusalem are awfully materialistic… and aren’t so much about being with Jesus.

John 6.25-29.

At the beginning John’s chapter 6, Jesus had his students feed 5,000 people with five rolls and fish spread. The people’s conclusion? Jesus was the Prophet, the End Times figure, the “prophet like Moses,” Dt 18.15 whom the Pharisees wondered whether John the baptist was. Jn 1.21 Because Jesus fed ’em bread, just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna. So he’s a prophet like Moses!

The next day they sought Jesus and couldn’t find him. So they returned to Jesus’s home base of Kfar Nahum… and there he was.

John 6.25-27 KWL
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 In reply Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you seek me not because you saw miracles:
Instead it’s because you ate the rolls and were filled.
27 Don’t toil for perishable food! Instead seek food which lasts for eternal life.
The Son of Man will give it to you, for Father God sealed this man.”

Various preachers love to claim this lesson is all about the people coming to Jesus for free bread, and Jesus responding he didn’t come to teach people to expect handouts. And whenever I hear this, it’s obvious they didn’t study the text, and instead they’re preaching their stingy politics instead of God’s kingdom. God doesn’t want us to be dependent on him for daily bread? Have they heard of the Lord’s Prayer? What bible are they reading?

Being dependent on God is precisely what God wants. You do realize he gave the Hebrews free manna for 40 years. The only work they had to do for it, was go pick it off the ground and stick to a liter a day. (Two liters on Friday; no liters on Saturday. Sabbath, y’know.) No planting, no watering, no waiting, no harvesting, no winnowing, no grinding; just free manna. As easy as when we buy flour at the grocery store; easier ’cause you pay nothing. You wanna agitate about handouts? You need to learn about God’s generosity, ’cause you’re deficient in it.

Free bread, free food in general, is one of the traits of Kingdom Come. Because of sin, humanity was cursed to toil for our food. Ge 3.17 Once God deals with our sin, the curse gets lifted and no more toil. That’s what we expect in heaven: Eternal rest! The Galileans expected it too. And suddenly after one of Jesus’s lessons, his students walk round handing out bread the Galileans didn’t have to work for. Then Jesus tells them about “food which lasts for eternal life,” and “the Son of Man will give it to you.” It doesn’t sound at all like Jesus was telling them, “I’m not here to give people handouts.” Just the opposite!

But.

Yeah, there’s a but. A big huge one. A but which also applies to us, because we’re guilty of precisely the same thing as the Galileans. Jesus told ’em to not seek perishable bread, but eternal-life bread. Because they were seeking perishable bread. They were seeking something material. Lots of it; enough so they’d regularly be filled; an abundance of it; so they were seeking a wealth of this material. Do I have to spell it out any more? Fine: Material wealth.

So… how many Christians are hoping to make it to Kingdom Come so they can have a crown filled with jewels, and a mansion on a street of gold?

And instead Jesus wants us to have living bread. Which—spoilers—is Jesus himself. Jn 6.35

05 November 2018

Seeking Jesus—who’s curing people in the next town.

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

Mark 6.53-56 • Matthew 14.34-36 • John 6.22-25.

After Jesus and Peter walked on water, the gospels go in different directions. Mark heads down south to Khinnerót, a town about 8 kilometers south from Kfar Nahum. Once they land, Jesus and his students do some stuff there. Matthew follows Mark’s lead and tells much the same story.

Whereas John stays in Beit Sayid, where the 5,000 got fed, where everybody was wondering what happened to Jesus. Then they went to look for him, and it looks like they found him at his home base of Kfar Nahum. Which isn’t Khinnerót.

Readers get their choice as to how to interpret this divergence. Some of ’em claim it’s a flat-out contradiction: Jesus went either one place or the other, and can’t possibly have gone to both places. Others point it doesn’t need to be a contradiction: First Jesus landed in Khinnerót, then walked the 8 klicks to Kfar Nahum, and by the time the people finally found him in John, he was home. The stories can have happened simultaneously, y’know.

But I remind you: The authors of the gospels weren’t trying to make their stories line up, and didn’t always care about chronological order. They were sharing the parts they considered important, in an order which flowed naturally to them. If they don’t line up precisely, big deal. (If they did line up precisely, people would think they’re quoting one another—which is exactly what scholars think is the case with the synoptic gospels.) So don‘t fret that it looks like a contradiction: It’s not. The writers are just telling different stories.

But for fun, we can always pretend these stories happened simultaneously. It creates a little dramatic tension. Which, I admit, is entirely unnecessary; it’s why I say we’re doing it for fun. In real life there was probably no tension at all: No wild, desperate hunt for Jesus while he’s meanwhile busy in Khinnerót.

John 6.22-25 KWL
22 In the morning, the crowd staying on the near side of the lake looked for a boat.
But it wasn’t there; just the one.
For Jesus hadn’t gone off with his students in the boat; the students left alone instead.
23 Boats from Tiberias instead came near the place they ate the rolls for which the Master gave thanks.
24 So when the crowd saw Jesus wasn’t there, nor his students, they entered the boats and went to Kfar Nahum, seeking Jesus.
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Why were they so anxious to find Jesus? ’Cause they deduced he’s the End Times prophet, so they wanted to stick around and follow him, and see whether he’d overthrow the Romans. The rest of John 6 dashed these hopes; I’ll discuss that in more detail later.

29 October 2018

Jesus and Peter walk on water.

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

Mark 6.46-52 • Matthew 14.23-33 • John 6.16-21.

Right after Jesus had his students feed 5,000-plus listeners, he sent ’em to the far side of Lake Tiberias (i.e. “the Galilean Sea,” although it’s not quite that big. The Great Lakes are way bigger.) So while Jesus dismissed the crowds and left to pray, the students rowed their way south.

And the rowing wasn’t easy, ’cause the weather didn’t cooperate.

Mark 6.46-48 KWL
46 Saying goodbye, Jesus went off to a hill to pray.
47 Much later, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land.
48A Seeing the students tortured by the rowing, for the wind was against them…
Matthew 14.23-24 KWL
23 Saying goodbye to the crowds, Jesus went up a hill by himself to pray.
Much later he was alone there. 24 The boat was already many stadia away from land,
tortured by the waves, for the wind was against it.
John 6.16-18 KWL
16 When it became later, Jesus’s students went down to the lake,
17 got into a boat, and went to the far side of the lake, to Kfar Nahum.
It had become dark, and Jesus hadn’t yet come to them.
18 The lake’s wind increased, blowing greatly.

Now, the title of this piece tipped you off what’s about to happen next: Jesus is gonna walk to them on the surface of Lake Tiberias. You’ve heard the story before. Heck, everybody’s heard of this story; walking on water is one of the most famous stunts Jesus ever pulled.

Though I should point not everyone who’s heard of this story, knows the details of this story. Pagans regularly assume Jesus is the only person who ever walked on water. Who ever could walk on water; there’s a widespread pagan interpretation that Jesus could do it because he’s so good, God would never let him sink! It surprises them when I tell ’em Simon Peter walked on water too—and then they leap to the conclusion Peter must’ve been a really good person too. Hardly. But I’m getting too far ahead of the story.

I bring up how everyone’s heard this story, to point out how most folks don’t know this story in context. They don’t know what happened before it. They don’t realize what happened before it, should’ve had enough of an impact on the students, they’d behave far differently than they did. But like Mark points out at the end of the story, these kids were pretty dense.

So I remind you there were three experiences the students should’ve bore in mind as the events in this story were taking place:

  • They weren’t unfamiliar with Lake Tiberias’s rough weather. And they also weren’t familiar with the fact Jesus once stopped this weather.
  • Day before yesterday, the Twelve had just returned to Jesus after going round the Galilee preaching the gospel, curing the sick, and throwing out demons. They had personally done what Jesus did.
  • And yesterday, Jesus had ’em feed the 5,000.

You’d think they’d be used to the impossible by now. Apparently not.

22 October 2018

When the crowds realized Jesus is the Prophet.

Wanna win a kingdom? Give ’em freebies.

Mark 6.45-47 • Matthew 14.22-23 • John 6.14-17.

Christians are far from decided about how the End Times are gonna play out. Well, most of us are undecided: We recognize God was deliberately vague about the details, and aren’t gonna presume to declare what his apocalyptic revelations mean. Sometimes because we’re too intimidated to try; sometimes because we know better than to try. Of course some of us aren’t so humble, and have even made intricate timelines.

What did the Pharisees do when it came to End Times speculation? Oh, they totally made timelines. You probably guessed that about ’em.

Not that their timelines lined up with one another. If you ever read the Mishna, you’ll notice Pharisees disagreed about everything. So of course there were dozens of theories about the order of events, and the various End Times figures whom the Pharisees expected would appear. There’s Messiah of course; that’d be Jesus the Nazarene. Some Pharisees couldn’t figure out how Messiah would both rule Israel and suffer and die, so they guessed there had to be two Messiahs—of course a first and second coming never occurred to them. There’s Elijah, who was raptured to heaven in a whirlwind 2Ki 2.11 and therefore hadn’t died; Pharisees figured God was gonna send him back before the End, Mk 9.11 and Jesus identified him as John the baptist. Mt 11.13-14 And there’s the Prophet, whom certain Pharisees insisted was what God meant here:

Deuteronomy 18.17-19 KWL
17 The LORD told me, “What they said is good.
18 So I raise them a prophet, like you, from among their family.
I put my words in his mouth, and he tells them everything I teach him.
19 If a person won’t listen to my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I examine them.”

Yeah, the LORD generally means any prophet he raises up—in any culture. But Pharisees imagined there’d be a quintessential prophet who especially fulfilled this word, whom the LORD would raise up special for the End Times. And Simon Peter indicated this guy also as Jesus the Nazarene.

Acts 3.17-24 KWL
17 “Now family, I know you’re acting in ignorance, just like your leaders.
18 This was how God fulfilled what he foretold through all his prophets’ mouths:
His Messiah was to suffer.
19 So turn around, turn back, so your sins can be patched up!
20 So a refreshing time can come from the Master’s face.
So he can send you his appointed Messiah, Jesus.
21 Heaven has to have Jesus till the time he restores all—
which God spoke of in the prophets’ age, through his saints’ mouths.
22 Moses said this: ‘Your Lord God will raise up a prophet for you,
from your own family, like me. Listen to him, to everything which he tells you.
23 It’ll be that every soul who doesn’t listen to this prophet
will be utterly destroyed from the people.’ Dt 18.18-19
24 All the prophets since Samuel, and those who followed him,
spoke of and proclaimed these days.”

I know; Peter didn’t quote Deuteronomy accurately. The LORD said it, not Moses; and the consequence of not listening to the prophet was “I examine them” (or as an Aramaic bible has it, “my Word examines them”—you know, Jesus). Turning that into utter destruction—well that escalated quickly. But utter destruction was kinda the mindset Pharisees had about ignoring God’s prophets. If God’s speaking, and we won’t listen, we’re kinda doomed. It’s happened before.

Hence the Prophet wasn’t a minor End Times figure. He was a big deal. The Pharisees wanted to know whether John was this Prophet, and John was pretty sure he wasn’t; he didn’t even think he was Elijah. Jn 1.19-24 Pharisees were on the lookout for the guy.

Well. Once Jesus’s students fed ’em bread in the middle of nowhere—just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna in the middle of nowhere!—guess what conclusion the crowd immediately jumped to?

John 6.14 KWL
So, seeing this miracle Jesus did, the people said this:
“This is truly the Prophet who’s meant to come to the world!”

But here’s the problem: Rather than listen to anything the Prophet might have to say about what his role really consists of—you know, like the LORD told ’em they oughta do—they immediately fell back on their culture’s expectations about the Prophet. They wanted to defy the Romans, defy Herod, and make Jesus their king. Right there. Right then. Right away.

Uh-oh.

15 October 2018

Jesus’s students feed thousands of people.

God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from shortages.

Mark 6.35-44 • Matthew 14.15-21 • Luke 9.12-17 • John 6.5-13.

This story is basically Jesus’s riff on a similar situation with Elisha ben Šafat:

2 Kings 4.1-7 KWL
1 A woman, one of the women of “the sons of prophets,” cried out to Elisha
to say, “Your slave, my man, died. You know your slave respected the LORD.
He was a debtor, and a collector is coming to take two of my children as slaves.”
2 Elisha told her, “What can I do for you? Tell me. What do you have in your house?”
She said, “Your slave has nothing in her house but a pot of oil.”
3 Elisha said, “Go ask all your neighbors outside for pots for yourself.
Empty pots. Not just a few!
4 Come in the house and shut the door behind you and your children.
Pour oil into all these pots. Set aside the full pots.”
5 She went with this, and shut the door behind her and her children.
They came to her with pots, and she poured.
6 When the pots were filled, she told her children, “Bring me another!”
They told her, “There are no more pots.” The oil held out.
7 She came to tell the God’s-man of this. He said, “Go sell the oil.
Be freed of your debt. You and your children can live on what’s left over.”

God multiplied oil to bail out this prophet; God can likewise multiply food to feed the big crowd who’d accumulated to listen to Jesus’s teaching.

Usually this story’s titled, “How Jesus fed 5,000 people.” Obviously ’cause people don’t bother to pay close attention to the text. Or they remember it from Jesus movies: Jesus puts the bread and fish in a basket, lifts it to the sky, prays, lowers the basket… and now it’s magically overflowing with food. They think of that instead of reading the bible.

Jesus came up with the idea to feed the crowd from what food his students had on them. Jn 6.6 In part to show his kids Elisha-style miracles are still doable; in part to show them God’s kingdom doesn’t suffer from the limitations of this world; in part to show them they could do this. ’Cause he told his students—read it again!—“You give them something to eat.” Then Jesus made them give the people something to eat. And that’s where the miracle took place.

Seriously. Read the story. Double-check it in other translations.

09 July 2018

Trying to get away from it all… and failing.

Sometimes we need to take a break from ministry… if people will let us.

Mark 6.30-34 • Matthew 14.12-14 • Luke 9.10-11 • John 6.1-4.

The bit where Jesus sent out his students to proclaim God’s kingdom and cure the sick, and where Jesus had them feed an audience of 5,000, were placed right next to one another in two of the synoptic gospels. Namely Mark and Luke.

Mark 6.30-31 KWL
30 Jesus’s students were gathered together to see him,
and reported everything to him—whatever they did, whatever they taught.
31 Jesus told them, “Come, by yourselves, to a place in the wilds. Stop for a little bit.”
For many people were coming and going, and they hadn’t time to even eat.
Luke 9.10 KWL
Returning, the apostles detailed for Jesus all they did.
Taking them, he withdrew with them to a town called Beit Sayid.

The reason they’re right next to one another? Because Jesus was training his students to be his apostles and minister on his behalf. With that came how to minister. And when he sends us to minister apostle-style, feeding the 5,000 is one of the ways in which he wants us to do so: Feed the hungry!

There are those Christians who figure our only job is to tell people about the kingdom—not demonstrate the kingdom by doing good deeds in Jesus’s name. Tell, not show. It’s a warped mindset, but I grew up among people of this mindset: They don’t actually love their neighbors, and this is how they weasel out of doing anything for ’em, contrary to Jesus’s teachings. Yeah, they need to get saved.

But after you’ve spent a bit of time intensively ministering to people, you do need to take a break. Get your Sabbath rest. Too many ministers work all week long: Saturday night services, Sunday morning services, and then it’s back to the usual workday ministries. They take no days off, then burn out. Jesus is the LORD who commanded Israel to take a break every week; he understands the value of rest. Don’t work yourself to death, even if your works are good works. Take a day!

Christians don’t always catch how Jesus sending his kids on a mission, is immediately followed by feeding 5,000. Because most of us aren’t in the habit of sitting down to read gospels all the way through. We break ’em up into daily readings, separate the stories from one another, read them without the previous story fresh in our minds, and don’t catch any of the context. Then people like me point out these fairly obvious facts, and Christians go, “Wow, I never realized that.” Yeah, well, stop reading it the way you’ve been reading it. You’re missing more than you realize.

Mini-rant aside: So, three gospels emphasize how Jesus took his students away for a brief rest. Problem is, they couldn’t catch a break. The crowds found out where Jesus had gone and went to see him. They had sick people and wanted ’em cured. Or they heard rumors Jesus might be Messiah, and wanted to see for themselves, and had a few days free ’cause they were getting ready to go to Jerusalem for Passover (no that’s not speculation; it’s bible Jn 6.4), so they took a detour to check him out.

So much for rest time.

02 July 2018

John the baptist’s death.

Because despots care more about power than people’s lives.

Mark 6.21-29 • Matthew 14.6-12.

As I mentioned previously “Herodias,” as she’s called in the King James Version, is Herodia Salome (or as I’ve westernized it, Salome Herod), granddaughter of Antipater Herod, the first “King Herod.” She’s the daughter of Aristobulus Herod, the wife of Aristobulus’s half-brother Philip, and later the wife of Aristobulus and Philip’s half-brother Antipater, or “Antipas,” as he’s usually called. Yeah, that’s how it was in the Herod family.

You might recall Salome held a grudge against John the baptist, who at this point in the gospels was in Antipas’s prison. She wanted John dead for publicly criticizing her marriage. In those days before anyone thought to protect free speech, criticizing the Roman governor was considered sedition, and treason, and got the death penalty. So as the Roman governor of the Galilee, Antipas could’ve executed John whenever he pleased. But he didn’t, either because he feared the crowds Mt 14.5 or because he liked to talk religion with John. Mk 6.20 Pick your favorite explanation; the bible’ll back you up.

Salome’s chance came on Antipas’s birthday, when Antipas—who held the hereditary title of king, though not really the job—was feeling particularly royal. Probably fortified by drink. He decided to offer a royal grant to Salome’s daughter, his stepdaughter—who, following Roman custom, was also named Herodia Salome. I’ll just refer to the mom as Senior and the daughter as Junior.

Mark 6.21-23 KWL
21 An critical day came, because Antipas Herod threw a dinner party for his birthday
for his magistrates and generals, and the princes of the Galilee.
22 His daughter, Salome Herod, came in and danced.
She pleased Antipas Herod and his guests.
The king told the girl, “Ask me whatever you want and I’ll give it to you.”
23 Antipas promised Salome, “Whatever you ask me. I’ll give you up to half my kingdom!”
Matthew 14.6-7 KWL
6 When Antipas Herod’s birthday came, Salome Herod’s daughter danced in the middle.
It pleased Herod, 7 so with an oath he promised to give her whatever she wanted.

Salome Jr. was born in the year 14. Jesus’s ministry started round the time he turned 30, Lk 3.23 which would probably be the year 22, when Salome Jr. was eight. Both gospels call her a korásion/“girl,” which means younger than the age of adulthood, 13 years old. So that helps pin down the date for this story: Between the years 22 and 27.

But a lot of Christians imagine Jesus’s ministry was only three years long. Based on what? Well they imagine Jesus died at age 33 (mixing up the year 33 with his age), and if he started at 30, that gave him only three years for all the events of the gospels to take place. Plus the gospel of John only mentions three Passovers Jesus attended, which jibes with their theory. So if Salome Jr. did her birthday dance in, say, the year 32, that’d make her an 18-year-old woman.

And then people start to leap to all sorts of unsavory speculations about what sort of dance this was—as if a Judean princess is gonna cavort in front of every civic leader of a very religious region. (And their wives, y’know.) Or they imagine what sort of relationship Antipas had with his grandniece/stepdaughter—which considering how the Herods had that reputation for inbreeding, ain’t that far of a stretch for the imagination to go. So they like to imagine a lustful Antipas leering at the girl, offering her absolutely anything she wanted, with naughty thoughts about what he wanted running through his mind.

Not that unsavory speculations don’t run through their minds even if they realize Salome Jr. was still a little girl. Me, I figure this says way more about the speculators than Antipas. And they’ve been speculating for centuries. With all sorts of inappropriate art to go along with it.

25 June 2018

Antipas Herod and John the baptist.

The despot who ruled the Galilee, and the prophet who dared critique him.

Mark 6.14-20 • Matthew 14.1-5 • Luke 9.7-9.

After Jesus turned loose the Twelve to go round the Galilee, do miracles, and proclaim God’s kingdom, word of Jesus got back to the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod.

Luke 9.7-9 KWL
7 The governor, Antipas Herod, heard all that was happening and was confused by it:
Some were saying John the baptist was raised from the dead.
8 Some said Elijah appeared; others said one of the ancient prophets had risen.
9 Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who’s this man about whom I hear such things?”
He sought to see Jesus.

Mark and Matthew give details about just how and why Herod beheaded John, but today I’m gonna focus on Herod himself. The gospels don’t provide a lot of details about him, which is why we have to turn to the history books to fill in the blanks.

The Herodus family was Roman. That’s why so many of them have the same names; that’s why the scriptures refer to all of them as either Herod or Herodia (the female form of Herod; KJV “Herodias”). To Romans the family, not the individual, was most important. And each member of the family represented the family; not so much themselves.

Because of this, Roman fathers tended to give all their children the same name: Their name. Gaius Plinius Secundus’s son would also be Gaius Plinius Secundus. (They might add “senior” or “junior” to indicate who was whom… but that’d get extra confusing when all the brothers had the same name.) Sometimes the kids were given a praenomen/“personal name” to differentiate between one another; sometimes a nickname; but most of the time all you knew was their cognomen/“family name.” Herod and Herodia.

Easy to mix them all up, but that was kinda the point in Roman culture.

So the Herods of the New Testament were actually one of these guys:

  • HEROD THE GREAT. Who wasn’t all that great. His Judean-style name was Herod bar Antipater; his Roman name was Herodus Antipatrus; he can also be called Herod 1. He’s the Idumean/Edomite who, with the help of the Romans, overthrew the Hasmonean royal family and took over Israel. He tried to have baby Jesus killed. I already wrote about him. His son Archelaus Herod tried to succeed him, but Augustus Caesar instead divided Israel into multiple provinces, and put three of them under Herod family members.
  • HEROD ANTIPAS. The Herod in this story, one of the sons of Herod 1, whose name was Herodus Antipatrus same as his father. (“Antipas” for short; I call him “Antipas Herod” western-style. I should mention he had a brother, also named Herodus Antipatrus, so technically he was Herodus Antipatrus Junior.) Caesar made him a tetra-árhos/“quarter-ruler” of Israel; the quarter he ruled was the Galilee. Technically he was still royalty, which is why the gospels still call him king. But he was a Roman governor, an employee serving only at the pleasure of the emperor.
  • HEROD AGRIPPA 1. Herodus Marcus Julius Agrippa, grandson of Herod 1, was a personal friend of Caligula Caesar, who made him king of Israel. He’s the Herod who had James bar Zebedee killed. Ac 12.2
  • HEROD AGRIPPA 2. Herodus Marcus Julius Agrippa, same as his father; Claudius Caesar put him in charge of various Israeli provinces. He’s the King Agrippa whom Paul testified in front of. Ac 26

We’ll just deal with Antipas Herod today.

18 June 2018

What Jesus had to say about John the baptist.

But for the best of reasons.

Matthew 11.7-15 • Luke 7.24-30.

After John sent two of his students to ask Jesus who he was, Jesus turned to his crowd of listeners and began to say complimentary things about John. (Which is further evidence John wasn’t going through some crisis of faith about who Jesus was, contrary to popular belief.)

Various “historical Jesus” scholars like to pit John and Jesus against one another ’cause their ministry styles were so different, and like to exaggerate their different emphases into full-on contradictions of one another. John was supposedly about wrath and perfectionism; Jesus about grace and peace. Ignoring of course all Jesus’s instructions to behave ourselves, and warnings about wrath; ignoring John’s declaration that Jesus came to take away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 For “historians,” they sure do skip a lot of history in order to push their theories, but I already ranted about that.

First thing Jesus brought up is what people expected to see when they first heard about John and wanted to check him out. Starting with two things they clearly didn’t expect to see, because John’s reputation was that of an Elijah-style hairy thunderer. Mk 1.6

Matthew 11.7-8 KWL
7 As these students were going, Jesus began to tell the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
8 What did you see instead? A person dressed in finery?
Look, those who wear finery are in kings’ houses.”
Luke 7.24-25 KWL
24 As John’s messengers went away, Jesus began to talk with the crowd about John the baptist.
“What did you go to the wilds to see? A wind-shaken reed?
25 What did you see instead? A person dressed in fancy clothes?
Look at the glorious clothes and luxury which is in the king’s palace.”

Certain commentators wanna claim these statements were kind of a knock on the Galilee’s governor, King Antipas Herod, who had imprisoned John at this time. Lk 3.19-20, Mt 11.2 The idea is Herod, as a politician, was the sort of guy who would sway like a papyrus reed in the breeze, and say or do anything to convince the Caesars to leave him in power. And of course he wore fancy clothing, as nobles do.

I don’t know that these statements were necessarily made about Herod. I suspect they’re more about wannabe prophets.

Because it’s precisely the sort of behavior we see in wannabe prophets nowadays. And human nature hasn’t changed any in the past 20 centuries: If somebody was a self-described prophet, they wanted acknowledgement. Respect. Maybe a little bit of fear. After all, they heard from God. They lacked the humility we oughta see in a real prophet, who recognizes they’re just the servant of the Almighty and nothing more; whom God doesn’t always grant the sort of messages that’d make ’em popular. Fake prophets, on the other hand, don’t have enough experience with God to realize their proper place way under him. And they’ve no trouble adjusting their messages to suck up to their audiences, because God didn’t really give them anyway. That whole wind-shaken reed thing? Applies to phony prophets just as much as it does to phony leaders.

Essentially Jesus’s message was, “When you went to check out John, did you expect to find a fake? And that’s not what you found at all.”

11 June 2018

John the baptist checks in on Jesus.

But for the best of reasons.

Matthew 11.2-6 • Luke 7.18-23.

In Jesus’s day there was no such thing as freedom of speech or religion. Your religion was either what the king said it was, or what the king permitted within his borders. Your speech was whatever the powerful couldn’t take offense at, ’cause if they did, they would kill or persecute you. That’s why Jesus taught in metaphors and parables on a frequent basis. It wasn’t just to make people think.

His relative John bar Zechariah, also known as John the baptist, was not so vague. John flat-out said the governor of the Galilee, Antipas Herod (frequently called “king” because he was the son of King Herod 1, but properly a Roman tetrárhis/“ruler of a quarter-province”) was in violation of the Law, ’cause he had married his brother’s ex. Lv 18.16 Plus she was his niece, which generally violates the command against having sex with close relatives. Lv 18.6 Since John wouldn’t shut up about it, Mk 6.17-18 Antipas threw him into prison, and so much for his ministry. John never got out alive.

In both Matthew and Luke, John heard what Jesus was up to, and sent some of his own students to ask Jesus a question. In Matthew we find out why John couldn’t do this personally: It was by this point John was in prison.

Matthew 11.2-3 KWL
2 John the baptist, hearing in prison of Messiah’s works,
sending some of his students, 3 told Jesus,
“Are you the one to come, or do we look for another?”
Luke 7.18-19 KWL
18 John the baptist’s students informed him about all these things.
Calling two particular students of his, John 19 sent them to the Master,
saying, “Are you the one to come, or do we look for another?”

And this question really confuses Christians. Because we’ve read the other parts of the gospels, in which John was entirely sure Jesus is the one to come. So it’s a little confusing when John suddenly sends Jesus some students with the question, “So are you the one to come?”

Most of the time, Christians assume John had a massive crisis of faith. After all, he’d been tossed into prison, he was gonna die, and when you ponder your mortality like this, you start to rethink everything. Maybe John didn’t believe anymore. So, to make himself feel better, he send students to Jesus with the unspoken request, “Please tell me my life hasn’t been in vain. Please tell me you’re Messiah.”

I don’t care for this interpretation. Mostly because I think the interpreters are projecting their own doubts upon John. He had no such doubts.

04 June 2018

Jesus interrupts a funeral.

But for the best of reasons.

Luke 7.11-17.

Whereas Jesus mighta raised the dead before—though he insisted she was only asleep—here it looks like he definitely raised the dead. Only Luke tells this story, and sets it the day after Jesus cured the centurion’s servant.

The location is Nein, which is not pronounced as the Germans do. (The KJV has “Nain.”) It was a tiny village 14km south of Nazareth—and 40km southwest of Kfar Nahum, which is quite a day’s walk; and Jesus must’ve got to this place before sundown, as we’ll see from historical context. As you might recall about Nazareth, people in the region didn’t expect much of Jesus, and certainly never expected him to do anything like this.

Luke 7.11-17 KWL
11 This happened the next day: Jesus went to a village called Nein.
His students, and a large crowd, were traveling with him.
12 As Jesus approached the village gate, look: One who died was being carried out.
He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd was with her.
13 Seeing her, the Master felt compassion for her and told her, “Don’t cry.”
14 Walking over, Jesus touched the coffin and its carriers stopped.
He said, “Young man, I tell you get up.”
15 And the dead boy got up, and began to talk. Jesus gave him to his mother.
16 In fear, everyone praised God, saying this:
“A great prophet rose among us!” and “God visited his people!”
17 This word about Jesus spread in all Judea and all the region.

Skeptics like to point out this story is similar to pagan stories. Which stands to reason: Back then, people used to bury or cremate you when they thought you were dead. Or at least pretty sure you were dead… and yeah, sometimes if they really wanted you to be dead, and weren’t particular about how you weren’t quite dead yet. But more than once they buried or cremated someone alive. Every once in a while they dramatically discovered they were wrong—someone’d wake up from their coma on the funeral pyre, or after they were stuck in a sepulcher. Standard worst-nightmare stuff. And that’s where our urban legends come from… and of course our old myths.

Anyway the hero of more than one myth would check out the “corpse,” find out they were only mostly dead, and there’s your happy ending. Well, unless they died soon thereafter of whatever made ’em look dead.

For Pharisees it was a little more likely they’d inter someone prematurely: Their custom required them to put a body in the ground before sundown. It was based on God’s command to bury a hanging victim the same day, Dt 21.23 and if you gotta do it for a criminal, you should do it all the more for anyone else. So if it looked like someone had died, you didn’t always have a lot of time before you had to dispose of the body. Plenty of chance people would be mistaken.

But Luke said this boy was dead, so there was no mistake here. Jesus didn’t come across a boy who wasn’t really dead, so it only looked like a miracle. Jesus raised the dead. First time we know of that he did that.