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

Jesus harvests the Samaritans.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 April 2024

John 4.31-38.

Gonna rewind a little to a verse I dealt with previously, in which Jesus’s students come back, see him talking to a Samaritan, and say nothing.

John 4.27 KWL
At this time, Jesus’s students come,
and are wondering why he’s speaking with a woman.
Yet no one says, “Whom do you seek?”
nor “Why do you speak with her?”

The Samaritan leaves, and tells the nearby town she’s encountered a prophet who might be Messiah—as Samaritans understood Messiah. They decide to have a look at Jesus for themselves. Meanwhile Jesus’s students now decide to question him.

John 4.31-34 KWL
31 Meanwhile the students question Jesus,
saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
32 Jesus tells them, “I have food to eat,
which you didn’t know about.”
33 So the students are saying to one another,
“No one brought him food, did they?”
34 Jesus tells them, “My food
is that I might do the will of the One who sends me,
and might complete the work for him.”

Most interpreters figure when ἠρώτων/iróton, “they question,” the students are asking Jesus to eat, but nah; they’re urging him to eat at the same time they’re asking him stuff. Rabbinic students back then were trained in the Socratic-style method of questioning your teacher what you wanted to learn. When the Samaritan was there, the students kept their mouths shut and asked nothing. Once she was gone, now the questions came.

And there are a few reasons why this might be so:

  • POLITENESS. Jesus was busy talking with her; don’t interrupt your master. Listen to what he’s doing or saying. Ask your questions afterward.
  • SHYNESS. Jesus was cool with them asking him absolutely anything, but they didn’t know nor trust her to not judge ’em for what they were gonna ask.
  • SHAME. This one’s popular with certain commentators, who presume the students were embarrassed by Jesus once again ignoring Pharisee custom. I would think they’d’ve known their master by now.
  • HUMILITY. Y’notice Pharisees would object to Jesus’s behavior whenever he interacted with “sinners.” Mk 2.16 Not to ask legit questions; frequently to accuse him of stuff, and rant about the things which personally offended them. But Jesus’s students knew him well enough to know he always had good reasons. And good character; he didn’t sin, He 4.15 so you never had to police him to make sure he wasn’t backsliding. They knew better than to presume he’d sin.
  • PATIENCE. And because they knew their master, they knew whenever he violated Pharisee custom, he was trying to teach them something, and expected the kids to ask him about it afterward. So they took time to come up with questions.
  • TIRED. This one’s also popular with certain commentators: They’d been walking, they were hungry, they didn’t wanna get another lesson right then. They wanted to sit, drink some water, eat some falafel, take a big fat nap till the heat died down, then get back on the road to Galilee. If they realized a lesson was coming, they possibly thought—as kids will—“If we just keep quiet, maybe he’ll drop it, and we’ll get out of it.” Yeah right.

Anyway, the questions began, and Jesus’s lesson followed.

The first time Jesus called himself Messiah.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 April 2024

John 4.25-30.

After meeting Jesus and realizing he’s a prophet, this Samaritan woman he met at Jacob’s well tried to get him to settle which temple was the correct one— the one at Shechem or the one at Jerusalem. Jn 4.20 Jesus pointed out it’s neither. Jn 4.21 God wants worshipers “in spirit and truth,” Jn 4.22-23 who can worship him anywhere. In temple, out of temple; in church, out of church.

But since Jesus didn’t give her the answer she was expecting, and kinda appeared to side with the Judeans, Jn 4.22 the Samaritan did the intellectual equivalent of shrugging her shoulders:

John 4.25 KWL
The woman tells Jesus, “I know Messiah” (i.e. Christ) “comes;
when this man comes, he’ll explain everything.”

“Yeah, you don’t know. But Messiah will know. And when he arrives, he’ll tell us which temple is the right one.”

As I’ve said previously, Samaritans didn’t believe in a Judean-style Messiah. Their bible only went up to Deuteronomy, so there were no actual Messianic prophecies. They believed in the Tahéb, a prophet-like-Moses Dt 18.15 who’d come at the End Times and sort everything out. And since the Tahéb was sorta anointed by God, the word “anointed” (ܡܫܺܝܚܳܐ/mešíkha in Aramaic/Syriac, χριστός/hristós in Greek) would be a valid synonym for Tahéb. Maybe the Samaritan did say Mešíkha, which is why John rendered it μεσσίας/messías, “Messiah.” Maybe she said Tahéb and John translated it. Doesn’t matter. After all, Jesus is the prophet-like-Moses; Ac 3.22-26 he is the Tahéb. So we’re fine either way.

Hence Jesus’s response to her apathetic statement. When Messiah arrives, he’ll tell you which temple is the right one? Well Messiah has arrived.

John 4.26 KWL
Jesus tells her, “I’m him.
I’m speaking to you.”

Mic drop.

Yeah, various skeptics insist Jesus never actually called himself Messiah. They insist Jesus never made any such claim about himself, never even hinted he might be Messiah; that it’s an idea added to Christianity decades later by overzealous apostles. Probably Paul. They really like to blame Paul for all the parts of Christianity they don’t like.

Thing is, Paul wrote his letters before his fellow apostles wrote the gospels. He wrote ’em in the 40s and 50s CE; the gospels were written in the 60s. The circulation of Paul’s teachings were simultaneous with the circulation of Jesus’s teachings; they still are, ’cause they usually get bound together in the New Testament. But when the ancient Christians first heard about Jesus, it was usually in the context of something Paul taught or wrote. Because they go together. It’s not “Jesus said this, but Paul said that”; it’s “Jesus said this, and here’s Paul’s commentary”—they uphold each other. Can’t have Christ without his Christians.

Okay yes, Jesus never literally says the words, “I’m Messiah” (or ἐγώ Μεσσίας, or ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܡܫܝܚܐ) in the gospels. Largely because if he did say that, he could get arrested and killed for treason against Rome. But he functionally says the very same thing: “I’m him. I’m speaking to you.” It’s as close to “I’m Messiah” as we’re gonna get from Jesus, and the Samaritan clearly understood him—and ran with it.

Literally ran with it: She abandoned her water jar, went into the Samaritan city which she had been deliberately avoiding all this time, and told everyone.

Worship God in spirit and truth.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 April 2024

John 4.19-24.

Since Jesus is a prophet, the Samaritan at the well figured she’d grill him on a then-current Samaritan/Jewish controversy: Which temple is the real temple? Which religion is the true religion? Where’s the one-and-only-one place to serve God? ’Cause Judeans said Jerusalem, and Samaritans said Shechem. Can’t both be right. Right?

John 4.19-20 KWL
19 The woman tells Jesus, “Sir, I see you’re a prophet.
20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain.
You Judeans say in Jerusalem
is the place where we have to worship.”

You might remember the Judeans had a temple. Originally it was a tent, “the tabernacle,” the LORD’s sacred portable temple which traveled with the Hebrews after the Exodus, and stayed at a few different locations for nearly five centuries… till Solomon ben David built the LORD a permanent, gold-covered cedar shrine at some point round 1000BC. This remained standing till the neo-Babylonians burnt it to the ground in 586BC.

But it was rebuilt twice: First in 516BC under Babylonian governor (and descendant of Solomon) Zerubbabel bar Shealtiel; then renovated top to bottom by the Herod family during Jesus’s lifetime, from 20BC to 64CE. Completed just in time to be destroyed six years later by the Romans.

The Samaritans opposed Zerubbabel’s first rebuilding. Eventually they decided to build their own temple, round 432BC. They built it on Mt. Gerizim in Shechem, the hill where Moses had the Hebrews proclaim God’s blessings. Dt 11.29 Since God’s name was proclaimed from there, the Samaritans figured this was the perfect place for the LORD’s name to dwell. Not Moriah, where King David had originally purchased a threshing floor to put an altar. 1Ch 21.28, 22.1 David, the Samaritans figured, picked the wrong site. Moses had picked Gerizim, so Gerizim it was.

You might not know these weren’t the only temples of the LORD in the ancient world. Jeroboam ben Navat, after he became king of the 11 northern Israeli tribes, built two temples—one at Dan in the north, Bethel near the southernmost part of his kingdom. This was so his people wouldn’t visit the Jerusalem temple for worship… and maybe get swayed by the kings of Jerusalem, and become a political problem for him later. Nope; now northern Israel had temples, so they could worship at home! Problem was, Jeroboam also included gold calves to represent God, 1Ki 12.26-29 which you might recall is a huge no-no. Dt 5.8-10 As far as the scriptures are concerned, these temples were heretic, and ultimately destroyed when the Assyrians invaded.

And in Egypt, Israeli communities there also created temples to the LORD, in Elephantine and Leontopolis. Both Judeans and Samaritans knew of them, and Flavius Josephus wrote about ’em. But both considered these Egyptian temples heretic, insisting there’s only one place where God would establish his name. Dt 12.11 And they ran that one place. Or figured they did.

So… which temple was the right one? (Yep, you betcha this was an orthodoxy test. Better answer correctly, Jesus!)

John 4.21 KWL
Jesus tells her, “Trust me, ma’am, the hour is come
when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem
will you worship the Father.”

Wait, neither? Yep.

Jesus prophesies to the Samaritan.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 April 2024

John 4.13-19.

Back to Jesus talking with the Samaritan at the well. He tells her about the water of life, and since they’re at a literal well, it’s fair to say she might not wholly understand he’s speaking in metaphor, as he tends to do. Because her focus isn’t a future kingdom of God; it’s on the here and now, and right now she’s at the well fetching water.

John 4.13-15 KWL
13 In reply Jesus tells her, “All who drink of this water
will thirst again.
14 Whoever might drink of the water I give them,
will never thirst in the age to come,
but the water I’ll give them
will become a spring of water within them,
gushing with eternal life.”
15 The woman tells Jesus, “Sir, give me this water!—
so I might not thirst,
nor travel to this place to get water.”

A number of interpreters take this statement the Samaritan made—“Give me this water”—at face value. I don’t. You’ll see why in a moment. But at this point, she’s treating Jesus as if he’s some weirdo… because to her mind, he is some weirdo. Judeans never talk to Samaritans. Yet here’s some rogue Judean who’s talking to her about installing a spring inside her. “Uh-huh. Sure. Yeah, you have water. If you do, I’d like some; fetching water is a pain.”

Ironic answers aren’t actually honest answers, and Jesus realized she didn’t really believe him, and that’s why he decided to “read her mail,” as prophets call it nowadays.

John 4.16-19 KWL
16 {Jesus} tells her, “Go;
call for your man,
and come back to this place.”
17 In reply the Samaritan tells him, “I have no man.”
Jesus tells her, “Well said, ‘I have no man’;
18 you had five men,
and the one you now have isn’t your man.
You said this truthfully.”
19 The woman tells Jesus, “Sir, I see you’re a prophet.”

And now he has her attention. “I see you’re a prophet”? Well duh Jesus is a prophet.

Christian evangelists should be taking notes about now. Too often we try to share Jesus with skeptical people, who think all our claims about who Jesus is and what he does are ridiculous, and aren’t receptive to it whatsoever. Rocky soil. And too often, these evangelists will try platitude after platitude, proof text after proof text, and the person will shrug it all off like Superman does with bullets.

But tell them something we can’t possibly know about them, and suddenly they go, “Wait—who told you that?” The Holy Spirit. He’s real; he’s been getting you ready for this conversation your entire life; you finally wanna hear what he has to say?

So when you’re sharing Jesus, pay attention to the Spirit! He’ll tell you whether this person is receptive or not—and if he tells you something completely random, like “She’s had five men,” don’t just dismiss it as too weird to share: Tell her that, and watch the reaction. (Although, a word of advice? Don’t bring up her relationship history when other people are around. Be discreet like Jesus.)

Anyway that’s why I figure her previous statement, “Give me this water,” was ironic: It wasn’t a truthful response. “I have no man”—now that’s a truthful response.

And from here on out, you’ll notice the Samaritan takes Jesus seriously.

The Samaritan at the well.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April 2024

John 4.1-14.

Just to remind you: Ancient Israelis (i.e. Judeans and Galileans) and Samaritans did not get along. Same as Israelis and Palestinians don’t get along; same as white nationalists and black nationalists don’t get along; same as cats and birds don’t get along. There was a lot of paranoia, fear, and dangerous old grudges between those two groups.

That’s why it was just dumbfounding for one Samaritan woman, one day, to find a man of Judean descent striking up a conversation with her. Asking her for water, of all things. As if he actually trusted her not to spit in it.

John 4.1-10 KWL
1 Once {the Lord} Jesus knows
the Pharisees hear Jesus makes and baptizes more students than John—
2 though Jesus himself isn’t baptizing,
but his students are
3 Jesus leaves Judea,
and again goes off to the Galilee,
5 and he has to travel through Samaria.
So Jesus comes to a Samaritan city called Sychár,
which is near the field Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
6 Jacob’s spring is there.
Jesus, fatigued by his long walk, is therefore sitting at the spring.
It was about the sixth hour after sunrise [i.e. noon].
 
7 A woman from Samaria comes to get water.
Jesus tells her, “Give me some to drink”
8 for his students went into the city
so they might buy food.
9 So the Samaritan woman tells Jesus,
“How can you even be near me, Judean, and ask for a drink?
me being a Samaritan woman?
For Judeans have no interaction with Samaritans.”
10 In reply Jesus tells her, “If you knew God’s gift,
and knew who’s telling you, ‘Give me some to drink,’
you could ask him,
and he could give you living water.”

Most translations of John have “For Judeans have no interaction with Samaritans” not as something the Samaritan said, but as John’s commentary on the situation. The word συγχρῶνται/synchrónte also means “work together with,” or “have use of”—the two people-groups really did have nothing to do with one another. Each did their own thing… or, of course, fought.

Obviously this woman didn’t recognize Jesus’s accent, or she’d’ve known he was Galilean, not Judean. Not that it would make any difference. Samaritans and Galileans didn’t interact either.

But as we already know about Jesus, he does interact with Samaritans. He came to save everybody, y’know; not just the people of his homeland! Samaritans too. Jesus doesn’t do nationalism or racism, and those who claim to follow him should likewise have no interaction whatsoever with those things—even less interaction than Judeans had with Samaritans.

John the baptist’s shrinking ministry.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 April 2024

John 3.26-36.

When John and his students were baptizing in Enon-by-Saleim, the students came to John to tattle on Jesus:

John 3.26 KWL
The students come to John and tell him, “Rabbi,
‘the one who comes after you,’ Jn 1.15
of whom you testified beyond the Jordan:
Look, he’s baptizing.
And everyone is coming to him.”

John’s response was to remind them what he had always taught: His job is to prepare people for Messiah—and here’s Messiah! Why on earth weren’t they rejoicing? He was.

John 3.27-30 KWL
27 In reply John says, “A person can’t receive anything
unless it had been given to him out of heaven.
28 You yourselves witnessed me say this:
‘I’m not Messiah.’
But I’m the one sent before this person
29 the one who has the bride.
He’s the groom.
The groom’s friend, who stood and hears him with joy,
rejoices at the sound of the groom.
So this is my joy, fulfilled.
30 This person must grow larger.
And I must shrink.”

I once heard a commentator claim there are no parables in the gospel of John. I don’t know what book he was reading; John has plenty of parables and analogies in it. John uses one right here, to compare himself and Jesus to a groomsman and a groom. (The KJV uses “bridegroom,” because back in 1611, a “groom” meant a caretaker; usually the employee who fed and brushed your horse.)

In our culture, a wedding is the bride’s party; less so (sometimes far less so) the groom’s. Ancient middle easterners did it just the opposite: It was the groom’s party. It was at his house; he hosted it; he bought the food and drinks. And God’s kingdom is not John’s party; it’s the king’s. John’s a groomsman, and happy to see his friend so happy.

This was always John’s role. And goal! Unlike most ministers, who die long before their work ever gets fulfilled, John got to see the fruits of his labors: He got to see the Messiah he’d been proclaiming for years. And his first thought isn’t, “Well now what do I do with my life?” It’s kinda obvious, isn’t it? It’s to celebrate!

No, John didn’t disband his ministry and start traveling with Jesus himself. That wasn’t his duty. He was to keep doing as he was doing, and keep pointing people to Messiah. But people would stop following him, and start following Jesus, as was always the plan. Not only was John fine with this, he deliberately sent his own students to follow Jesus instead. Follow the king, not the king’s herald.

Few Christians nowadays are as fine with this as John was. When another ministry grows larger than ours, or supersedes what we’re doing by doing it better, we don’t always respond, “Wonderful! This’ll do so much more for the kingdom than I could.” More often: “Who the hell are they? Who do they think they are? We were the ones toiling in the heat of the day, and they just swoop in and have this huge success? Oh no. They need to respect us. They need to get in line. This is our territory. These are our sheep.”

No it’s not, and they’re not. Everything belongs to Jesus. Either we’re working for him, and always have been; or we aren’t, and were always really working for ourselves. If our beloved boss promotes someone else, either we trust he knows best—like we’ve been claiming he does all this time!—or we never really did trust him; it was all hypocrisy.

Basically whenever Christians get jealous fellow Christians, we’re never being jealous for Jesus. We’re actually being jealous of Jesus. We want the success—not for his sake, but for our own. If it’s for his sake, we’ll be thrilled when any fellow Christian, any sister church, any Christian ministry, is doing well. Their successes are our successes, for we’re all on the same team.

Unless we’re not. Unless, instead of groomsmen, we’re there to compete with the groom for his bride.

Jesus and John go baptizing.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 April 2024

John 3.22-26.

After the discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus and his students went traveling around Judea, baptizing.

Yes, baptizing. You know, like John the baptist had. Really. It’s in the gospel of John:

John 3.22 KWL
After these things,
Jesus and his students go into the Judean countryside.
They’re staying there with the Judeans,
and are baptizing.

I use “countryside” to translate γῆν/yín, “earth.” Basically it’s everywhere in Judea that’s not Jerusalem. The gospel of John spends a lot of time in Judea, because John was trying to correct the misconception we might get from the other gospels, that Jesus spent all his time in the Galilee and Dekapolis, and never went to Judea till Holy Week. Nope; he was in Jerusalem for all the festivals, same as any devout Jew. And sometimes longer, visiting friends.

Here John says they were baptizing. Now, John makes it clear a bit later that it’s Jesus’s students actually doing the baptizing, not Jesus himself. Jn 4.2 But don’t you get the idea Jesus didn’t approve of it! He absolutely did. He got baptized, by John. You recall he also told his students much later: When you make new students, baptize ’em in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mt 28.19 And they did. Ac 2.38 And still do.

Now, the other thing to be aware of is we’re not yet talking about Christian baptism; this isn’t our sacrament where a new Christian declares they’ve renounced sin and trust Jesus and intend to follow him. This is still John-style baptism. These were people who’d likewise renounced sin, and intended to now follow the Law of Moses. Likely the students doing all the baptizing were former John students, who were simply doing as the prophet had taught ’em: Whenever somebody repents, put ’em in the water and ritually cleanse them. Give ’em an experience, which’ll help ’em remember the new commitment they made.

On occasion you’ll find a Christian who gets dismissive of John’s baptism. Mostly because they figure Jesus, or Christian baptism, supersedes it. Which yeah, it kinda does… but it kinda doesn’t. It’s still valid to turn away from sin and follow God; it’s just we now know the way to follow God is by following Jesus, not the Law. Follow a person, not a text… one we can way too easily poke loopholes into.

Vinegar to drink.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 March 2024

Mark 15.23, 26, Matthew 27.33-34, 48, Luke 23.36, John 19.28-30

Back when David was in deep doo-doo, Ps 69.2 he wrote Psalm 69 to gripe about his enemies. But when he talked about his comforters, Ps 69.20 he commented,

Psalm 69.21 KWL
They gave me bitter food,
and for my thirst, they made me drink vinegar.

It’s a memorable idea, and one which no doubt the authors of the gospels thought of when Jesus was getting crucified. ’Cause Jesus didn’t wanna drink what they provided.

Our culture might be unaware: Back then, you didn’t drink the water. You never knew where it came from, and rarely was it pure. Fastest way to get dysentery or cholera. So the ancients drank wine, either full-strength or watered-down. (Or beer, if your culture made beer.) The alcohol killed any bacteria. Ignore all those teetotalers who claim “wine” back then was actually grape juice: Grape juice was as potentially harmful as water. It needed to be wine.

The gospels aren’t consistent in how they describe the wine Jesus was offered. Mark called it myrrh-wine and Matthew called it wine with χολῆς/holís, “bile.” For Luke and John, it was really old wine, which both of ’em straight-up called ὄξος/óxos, “vinegar.”

Mark 15.22-23 KWL
22 They bring Jesus to Gulgálta Place (i.e. Skull Place).
23 They’re giving Jesus myrrh-wine, which he doesn’t take.
 
Matthew 27.33-34 KWL
33 Coming to the place called Gulgálta, called Skull Place,
34 they give Jesus wine to drink—with bile mixed in,
and on tasting it he didn’t want to drink.
 
Luke 23.36 KWL
They mock him. The soldiers who came were bringing him vinegar…

John states they added hyssop, but the KJV changes John’s account to “[a branch] of hyssop,” Jn 19.29 KJV to sync it up with Mark and Matthew’s account of putting the wine in a sponge, putting the sponge on a reed (or a hyssop stick, I suppose), and offering it to Jesus. But hyssop is also a bitter extract, and may be what Matthew meant by bile. I dunno.

Mark 15.36 KWL
One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar,
putting it on a reed, gives Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let me do this;
we might see if Elijah comes to take him.”
 
Matthew 27.48 KWL
One runner quickly leaves them:
Taking a sponge full of vinegar,
putting it on a reed, he gives Jesus a drink.
 
John 19.28-30 KWL
28 After this Jesus, knowing everything was now finished,
says to fulfill the scripture, “I thirst.”
29 A full jar of vinegar is sitting there.
So a sponge full of vinegar, with hyssop put on it, is brought to Jesus’s mouth.
30 When he tastes the vinegar, Jesus says, “It’s finished.”
He bends his head and hands over his spirit.

Yeah, the soldiers and their runners offered Jesus vinegar more than once.

Certain commentators claim the myrrh in the wine was meant to be medicinal. Supposedly the Romans, feeling a little bad for their victims, wanted to numb them just a little to the excruciating pain of crucifixion. Man, is that optimistic of the commentators. Ask your local supplier of essential oils: Myrrh is no painkiller. It wasn’t even a folk-remedy painkiller. The ancients used it as perfume—to keep wounds and medicines from smelling bad. From there, moderns leap to the conclusion it was kind of an antiseptic—it kept wounds from getting infected and gangrenous, right? But it didn’t do that at all: It hid the smell of wounds which were getting septic. It made you worse, not better. Despite your favorite websites, myrrh has no proven purpose in medicine.

So what was it doing in the wine? Myrrh is bitter. (So’s hyssop.) It made the wine taste like bile. And when people taste bile, what do they do? They gag: It tastes like vomit. They’ll frequently even vomit.

Yep, it was the Romans’ sick little joke. The victims got thirsty and begged for wine… so you gave ’em myrrh-wine, and watched ’em freak out. Arguably that was why they put the vinegar in a sponge on a reed: It wasn’t because the crosses were impractically tall. It’s because the soldiers didn’t wanna get puked on.

Wasn’t Jesus thirsty?

Christians sometimes think there’s a serious discrepancy in the gospels’ stories of Jesus’s crucifixion. ’Cause in Mark and Matthew, Jesus refused to drink anything. But in John, he declared “I’m thirsty!” and drank the vinegar. Or wine, depending on the translation—and upon whether the translators could imagine Jesus willingly drinking vinegar.

I’ve heard interpreters claim Jesus refused the wine because he didn’t wanna be numbed. He wanted to really suffer all the pain he was going through, with senses entirely intact. (Or as intact as they could be, considering all the blood loss.) He was dying for our sins here, and he wanted sin to suffer on its way down. So no alcohol, no myrrh, no nothing. Bring on the pain!

There’s a bothersome amount of sadomasochism in this interpretation, which says all sorts of creepy things about the preachers. There’s plenty of suffering involved in public rejection, flogging, and crucifixion. Jesus was going down hard. Bad wine and a mild sedative weren’t gonna make things better.

But again, that wasn’t the Romans’ motive at all. They weren’t trying to be light on their victims. They figured every crucified person was an annoyance or danger to Rome, and deserved what they were getting. They’d just beaten Jesus up for fun. They were still having fun at his expense, gambling for his clothes, mocking the title which Pilatus had fastened to the cross. Myrrh-wine wasn’t a mercy. It was more sick fun.

So you can see why Jesus initially wouldn’t touch the stuff. Of course he was thirsty. But not that thirsty.

That is, till the very end. John said he decided to drink the vinegar to fulfill the scriptures. Jn 19.28 Maybe he meant the Psalms passage, where David’s enemies made him drink vinegar. But maybe it’s also this passage:

Mark 14.24-25 KWL
24 Jesus tells them, “This is the blood of my relationship, poured out for many.
25 Amen: I promise you I’ll never drink of the fruit of the vine again—
till that day when I drink it new, in God’s kingdom.”

I admit that’s a stretch though. John never quoted that statement, and you know he totally would have if it were relevant. I have nonetheless heard it preached that Jesus was willing to drink the wine because it was finished: He was dying, God’s kingdom was coming into the world, and all things were being made new. He drank it in victory… though it sure didn’t look like any victory at the time. But meh; I don’t buy it.

Is there an inconsistency between Jesus’s declaration, “I’ll never drink of the fruit of the vine again,” and drinking the vinegar? Maybe. But I expect, and most Christian expect, Jesus was speaking of proper wine. The festal stuff, which you drink at Passovers and holidays. Not the awful swill the Romans were providing.

In any event he probably did have the Psalms passage in mind when he drank the vinegar. Here the Romans were, offering him phony comfort. But it was deliberately made bitter, and was just another form of torment.

So Jesus put it off till the very last minute, did the deed and fulfilled the verse… then gave up the ghost.

Jesus prays at Gethsemane.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 March 2024

Mark 14.32-41.

St. Francis’s stations of the cross begin with when Jesus is given his cross. (Duh; it is the stations of the cross.) But Jesus’s suffering actually began earlier, so St. John Paul’s list also begins earlier—with Gethsemane, the olive garden on Mt. Olivet, where Jesus prayed he might not go through the crucifixion.

Mark 14.32-41 KWL
32 Jesus and his students come to a field
whose name is Gat Semaním/“oil press.”
He tells his students, “Sit here while I pray,”
33 and Jesus takes Simon Peter
and James and John with him.
He begins to be distressed and troubled.
34 Jesus tells his students, “My soul
is intensely sad, to the point ofdeath.
Stay here and stay awake.”
35 Going a little further, Jesus is falling to the ground
and is praying that, if it’s possible, the hour might pass him by.
36 Jesus is saying, “Abba! Father!
For you, everything is possible!
Take this cup away from me!
But it’s not what I will,
but what you will.”
 
37 Jesus comes and finds his students sleeping.
He tells Peter, “Simon, you’re sleeping?
You can’t stay awake one hour?
38 Stay awake and pray!—
lest you come to temptation.
You have a truly eager spirit—
and weak flesh.”
 
39 Going away again, Jesus prays,
saying the same words.
40 Coming back again, Jesus finds his students sleeping,
for their eyes are very heavy.
They didn’t know how to answer him.
41 Jesus comes back a third time,
and tells his students, “Sleep the rest of the time.
Get your rest.
It’s enough.
…The hour comes.
Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into sinners’ hands.”

This story comes up in the synoptic gospels. It’s not in John, whose author had to do things his own way:

John 18.1 KWL
Upon saying these things,
Jesus goes with his students over the Kidron ravine,
where there’s an olive garden.
He enters it,
and his students follow.

John Paul recognized this is the beginning of Jesus’s passion, not when he was sentenced to death later that night. ’Cause that’s what the gospels depict: He went into the garden to pray, and suddenly it’s like he’s blindsided with emotion. It freaked him out a little. He wanted to pray; he wanted his kids to pray for him. But as people do when they’re up past their bedtime praying (and not just kids; don’t just blame this on their spiritual immaturity), they fell asleep on him. Three times.

Still, Jesus was really agitated, and John Paul recognized it’s this psychological trauma which marks where Jesus’s suffering began. Not just when he was taken away to die.

How much of the Nicodemus discourse did Jesus say?

by K.W. Leslie, 21 March 2024

John 3.1-21.

There’s a big debate among bible scholars, and you’ll see it reflected in various bible translations: How much of Jesus’s talk with Nicodemus consists of a direct quote from Jesus? Does Jesus stop talking in verse 15, and the rest is the apostle John’s commentary? Or is it all a Jesus quote?

You can see this when you compare bible translations. Some translations make it all a Jesus quote; some don’t. Check out the English Standard Version and the New International Version.

John 3.1-21 ESV
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3.1-21 NIV
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Heck, in the Word Biblical Commentary, commentator George R. Beasley-Murray ends Jesus’s statement with verse 12, and “Nobody’s risen up to heaven…” etc. Jn 3.13 is all John.

Why’s this a big deal? Honestly, it’s really not. Whether Jesus said it or John said it, it’s still Spirit-inspired bible, and just as valid. Doesn’t matter whether the Spirit moved John to write it, or Jesus personally taught it to Nicodemus. Ultimately the ideas originate with God.

But you know how Christians get sometimes: If it’s in the red letters, it’s extra important. Because Jesus said it. Since we need to especially pay attention to Jesus’s teachings, we need to exalt ’em far more highly than if some ordinary apostle wrote it, whether that apostle is John, Paul, George, Ringo, Luke, Matthew, Sosthenes, Mark, Peter, James, Timothy, Silas, Jude, or whoever wrote Hebrews.

Lifting Jesus exposes the world’s darkness.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 March 2024

John 3.17-21.

God will judge the world at the end of time. Rv 20.11-15 But too many Christians have the false belief, and wanna have the false belief, and promote the false belief, that God is judging the world right now. Because they’re judging the world right now. It’s pure projection.

In contrast, Jesus says multiple times he isn’t here to judge the world, but save it. True of his first coming; true of his second. He’s coming back to save the world again; not by defeating sin and death again, but by personally leading all his followers (well, the ones who aren’t secretly hypocrites) to actually love our neighbors, make peace, and legitimately fix the world’s problems instead of sitting around waiting for him to do something. You know, do what he’s always taught us to do.

But since it’s way easier to just condemn the world and wash our hands of it, we usually do that. And adopt any beliefs which tell us Jesus thinks exactly like we do—that when he returns, he’s gonna burn the world down, kill all the wicked, and set up a New Jerusalem with only them in it. It’s a graceless, and therefore sick ’n twisted ’n totally unlike Jesus, version of things. It’s not good news; it’s evil.

In Jesus’s discourse with Nicodemus, he once again says it: His mission is to save the world. For God so loved the world that he saves those who trust him. Jn 3.16 And for those who don’t really trust him—including all the Christians who preach their own sick ’n twisted “gospel” instead of what Jesus actually teaches, because they don’t trust Jesus enough to actually care what he teaches—Jesus doesn’t have to judge them. Their actions pretty much do that for him.

Back to the discourse:

John 3.17-21 KWL
17 “For God doesn’t send his Son into the world
to judge the world,
but so that, through him, he might save the world.
18 One who trusts the Son is not judged.
One who doesn’t trust him, was already judged—
because they didn’t trust the name
of the only begotten Son of God.
19 This is the judgment:
The light came into the world.
People love the darkness more than the light,
for their works are evil.
20 Everyone who dabbles in meaningless stuff
hates the light,
and doesn’t come to the light
lest their works be rebuked.
21 One who does the truth
comes to the light,
so their works might be made known
because they were a labor done in God.”

Now this passage tends to confuse certain Christians—and certain pagans love to play dumb and deliberately let it confuse them—because in verse 17, Jesus says he’s not here to judge the world. (Or condemn the world; κρίνῃ/kríni, “he might critique,” can be translated either way.) Yet even though he says he’s not judging the world… verse 18 sure does make it look like he’s judging people who don’t trust him, and verses 19-21 sure do make it look like he’s judging people who embrace darkness instead of light.

But lemme point out the verb tenses here. Jesus isn’t here to (present-tense subjunctive) judge the world; but one who doesn’t trust the Son of God (perfect passive) was already condemned, at some point in the past. It’s the difference between a defendant on trial, and a convicted felon: One has yet to be judged, and the other’s been judged. And Jesus isn’t involved in either dude’s judgment. He’s actually here to save them both: If the convict wants parole, turn to Jesus! And if the defendant wants the verdict set aside, turn to Jesus!

So how do we know who’s a convict and who’s not? Simple. Jesus is the world’s light. If they’re not a convict, they’re happy to be in the light; it proves God is living and active in their lives. Jn 3.21 And if they are a convict, it’s just the opposite; they stick to the shadows, so they can hide their hypocrisy and disguise it as Christianity.

For God so loves the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 March 2024

John 3.14-17.

One of the first memory verses Christians are encourage to put into their brain is John 3.16, which many of us have memorized in the King James Version:

John 3.16 KJV
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I’ve heard a number of sermons and sermon series about this verse. I’ve read entire books written about this verse. I’ve watched a crappy video series about this verse, which featured some really bad actors in a really long one-act play about how important this verse is. And many an Evangelical Christian has told me this is the gospel, all summed up in one verse. This is the good news. This is Christianity.

Yeah, it’s not. The gospel is what Jesus says it is, and he articulated it in Mark 1.15.

Mark 1.15 KJV
And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

The kingdom of God is at hand. Not that John 3.16 is an unimportant or irrelevant verse at all! It tells us something vitally important about how the kingdom works—namely that we gotta believe in Jesus. And it reminds us a significant component of the kingdom is the age to come. But John 3.16 doesn’t mention the kingdom, and if you don’t know God has a kingdom and Jesus is its king, you don’t have the gospel. You have something about the gospel, but you’re missing a bunch of vital details.

In context, this verse comes in the middle of Jesus instructing Nicodemus, right after he objected to people who think they know it all, and therefore won’t listen to him. He knows what heaven is like, for that’s where he came from. He knows his Father, and if you know him you’ll know his Father too. He is the only one who can make clear sense of God. So you kinda have to pay attention to him. And lift him up so others can see him, listen to him, and trust him too.

John 3.14-17 KWL
14 “Same as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,
it’s likewise necessary to lift up the Son of Man,
15 so everyone who trusts in the Son of Man
{might not be destroyed,
but} might have life in the age to come.
16 For this is how God loves the world.
Therefore he gives his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who trusts in him
might not be destroyed,
but might have life in the age to come.
17 For God doesn’t send his Son into the world
to judge the world,
but so that, through him, he might save the world.”

We gotta look at Jesus. He defines Christianity. Not a bible verse; not even a particularly good bible verse. Not a church, not a movement, certainly not popular Christian culture. Jesus alone; Jesus’s teachings and actions and life and power. That’s why God sent his Son into the world—to give us someone to follow and mimic.

Unfortunately too many people have bent this verse a whole bunch, and got us to focus not on Jesus’s life, but entirely on Jesus’s death.

It’s hard to teach people whose minds are made up.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 March 2024

John 3.9-13.

When Nicodemus came by night to suss out Jesus, our Lord began their discussion by talking about getting born again. Because we gotta be born again. Flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s kingdom. 1Co 15.50

Evangelical Christians tend to claim “being born again” is purely a spiritual transformation. Not a radical change of character into one which produces good fruit. Not a resurrection into eternal life. It’s how they avoid both trying to develop good fruit, and adopting a proper view of the second coming instead of the End Times bloodbath they’re kinda fantasizing about in which Jesus smites all their political foes.

Being born again is a deep, challenging idea. Which Nicodemus balked at… as people will do when they’re confronted with something which demands real, transformative change of them. He began with the typical skeptic’s joke of “What, you mean that literally?” Jn 3.4 No; you misunderstand how new life works. But now Nicodemus went with a different skeptic’s tack: “Okay, explain how this is gonna happen.” In other words, explain it so I can critique it.

But Jesus, who’s far wiser than most people realize, didn’t take the bait.

John 3.9-13 KWL
9 In reply Nicodemus tells him, “How can these things happen?”
10 In reply Jesus tells him, “You’re Israel’s teacher.
You don’t already know these things?
11 Amen amen! I promise you:
We’ve known what we’re talking about.
We’ve seen what we’re testifying about.
You people don’t receive our testimony.
12 If you don’t trust me when I tell you earthly things,
how will you trust me when I tell you heavenly things?
13 Nobody’s risen up to heaven
except the one who comes down from heaven:
The Son of Man.” {Who’s in heaven.}

Text that was added to the New Testament by the Textus Receptus (and therefore found in the King James Version and NKJV) are in braces: John didn’t actually write it, and Jesus didn’t actually say it. Wouldn’t make any sense if he did. If Jesus had told Nicodemus the Son of Man is in heaven, it’d imply Jesus isn’t the Son of Man, because Jesus was right there, on earth, teaching the Pharisee senator about himself. He’d have to give Nicodemus a whole extra lesson about how the Son of Man was on both heaven and earth at the same time. Which he wasn’t; the whole point of verse 13 is to tell him the Son of Man came down from heaven.

And yet we have Christians who think the Textus and KJV have it right; that somehow Jesus was in heaven at the same time he told Nicodemus he’d come down from there. Somehow he was in two places at once, ’cause despite being in a human body, he’s God and omnipresent at the same time. But this is a heresy which turns Jesus into the remote-control avatar of the heavenly Son of God, instead of being fully God. Nope; not going there! If “Who’s in heaven” is to be seriously considered part of the text of John (and it’s probably best we don’t), it’d have to be an additional comment of the author of John—reminding us the Son of Man is in heaven now, but at the time he was talking to Nicodemus, he wasn’t yet.

Anyway. There’s a regular theme we see throughout John where Jesus tries to teach people something, but they can’t handle his teaching. This’d be one of those times.

Not because it’s impossible to understand Jesus! We give newbies the gospel of John, and they read it, and understand Jesus just fine. He’s deep, but he’s intelligible. John wrote most of his gospel in pretty basic Greek too, so most of the time it’s really easy to translate. Jesus uses tons of metaphors, but big deal; every culture has metaphors, and the ancient Hebrews were thoroughly familiar with metaphor; read Psalms and the Prophets sometime. Metaphor-a-rama.

The issue isn’t that Jesus goes over people’s heads. He doesn’t. The issue is people don’t want him in their heads. He’s too challenging! Too antithetical to the stuff people prefer to believe. Too contradictory to the stuff they grow up with, and take for granted. Too convicting.

And there’s another theme seen throughout John, which we also see right here in this passage: Jesus finds this rampant closed-mindedness really annoying.

You have to be born again.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March 2024

John 3.3-8.

“Born again” has become a Christianese cliché, a phrase we use to mean we’ve come to Jesus, and now we’re all different. And no, you might not be able to see we’re any different, ’cause we still act like the same fruitless, raging jerks you’ll find at political rallies and sporting events. But no, really, we’re born again! We said the sinner’s prayer (possibly years ago) and now we’re new creations in Christ. Bible says so.

Is that anything at all like what Jesus is talking about? Well it’s like what Jesus is talking about; it’s borrowing his idea that some sort of spiritual transformation has happened in a Christian’s life. Problem is, this spiritual transformation, if it’s valid, produces good fruit. That’s the part Christians tend to skip over, because plenty of “born again” Christians haven’t changed at all, and the only fruit they produce is excuses for why all their definitions for the Spirit’s fruit don’t sound at all like basic commonsense definitions should. Why their definitions kinda sound like they’re making excuses for why they have no such fruit.

In short it’s hypocrisy. Let’s not do that.

As popular Christianity would have it, “I’ve been born again” pretty much means “I believe Jesus individually saves me from hell.” Sometimes they also correctly believe he saves us from sin and death. So, y’know, they have one basic orthodox belief. One. Whether they get more of ’em, or whether they produce good fruit, or whether they follow Jesus’s teachings and stop sinning, are entirely different deals. As you’ve seen.

Now let’s look at Jesus’s expectation. As he explained it to Nicodemus:

John 3.3-10 KWL
3 In reply Jesus tells him, “Amen amen! I promise you:
Unless one is born all over again,
one cannot see God’s kingdom.”
4 Nicodemus tells Jesus, “How can a person, being old, be born?
One can’t enter one’s mother’s womb a second time and be born.”
5 Jesus answers, “Amen amen! I promise you:
Unless one is born out of ‘water’ and Spirit,
one cannot enter God’s kingdom.
6 One who was born out of flesh, is flesh.
One who was born out of Spirit, is spirit.
7 You ought not wonder because I tell you
that you have to be born all over again.
8 The Spirit blows wherever he wants.
You hear his voice,
but you didn’t know where he comes from,
nor where he goes.
Same with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Briefly I should mention the “born out of ‘water’ ” bit. I, and many commentators, are pretty sure Jesus uses “water” as a euphemism for bodily fluids. Some of ’em think it refers to the woman’s water breaking during childbirth; some of ’em think it refers to semen. In general it means what physically has to happen before a baby is made. And getting born of the Spirit is what spiritually has to happen before a Christian is made.

The Greek word πνεῦμα/néfma can mean both “wind” and “spirit” and “[Holy] Spirit.” (So can the Aramaic word רוּחַ/ruákh.) Translators have to determine from the context of the passage which definition is correct. You notice most bibles go with “wind” in verse 8: “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” has the KJV. I went with “Spirit” for a few reasons. One is Jesus may mean wind, but he meant for Nicodemus to simultaneously think of both wind and the Holy Spirit; the statement is true of both the wind and the Holy Spirit. One can detect the Spirit’s activity—one can hear his φωνὴν/fonín, “sound, voice”—but does that really mean we know what he’s up to? Not necessarily. Likewise do we know what the Spirit does within us? Not necessarily.

Should we? Well, yeah! Pay attention to him! Follow him. Don’t just dismiss what he’s doing, and presume he’ll just grow fruit within us without any participation on our part. Because it doesn’t work that way at all—as demonstrated by all the fleshly Christians in the world who make “born again” sound like a silly joke to pagans.

Introducing Nicodemus.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 March 2024

John 3.1-4.

Because Cardinal Stephen Langton divided the gospel of John into chapters in the late 1100s, people tend to read John 3 without bothering to read the verses which come right before it. So they kinda miss the context where Jesus knows he can’t fully trust anyone. It’s kinda important to be aware of, because the very next thing in the gospel is when Nicodemus comes to visit him.

And the message Nicodemus brings him? “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” Jn 3.2 KJV Who’s the “we”? The Judean senate. Nicodemus is an ἄρχων/árhon, “first-rank person,” a word often translated as “prince,” but this does not mean the son of a king or another prince; it means the number-one guy in the country. Or a member of the top caste, or someone from one of the most prominent families in Judea. Nicodemus’s family was important enough, rich enough, politically powerful enough, for him to buy a seat and a vote in their συνέδριον/synédrion (NIV “Sanhedrin,” KJV “council”), the assembly led by the head priest which ran everything in Judea which the Romans didn’t.

So the Judean senate knew Jesus is a teacher who came from God.

And… so what?

Did it mean they respected him as someone sent from God? Listened to him? Carefully considered whatever he taught, and once they determined it jibes with the scriptures and God’s character, followed him? Invited him to speak before the senate, and kept records of his wisdom? Invited him to lunch, at least?

Nope. They ignored him. Except for one senator, who went to visit Jesus at night so he’d be less likely to be seen publicly talking with our Lord in temple or synagogue or the streets.

Like John said, Jesus didn’t trust ’em with himself, because he’s fully aware of what’s in people. Jn 2.24-25 He knew exactly why the senate realized he came from God, but wouldn’t acknowledge him: It’d mean they’d have to repent. They’d have to stop compromising the worship of God and the following of his Law because of their pursuit of political power. They’d have to stop being hypocrites.

But they weren’t gonna make any such changes. Because they didn’t fear God—same as the unjust judge in Jesus’s Persistent Widow Story. (No doubt Jesus based that judge on actual judges in the senate, and his hearers knew exactly the kind of unjust judge he was talking about.) Didn’t follow God at all… yet arrogantly figured he was guaranteed a spot in God’s kingdom because he was a descendant of Abraham. Same as the self-described Christians in our country who assume they’re guaranteed a spot too, because they once said the sinner’s prayer.

Anyway. Nicodemus came with what he thought was good news for Jesus: Hey, in case you were wondering (’cause none of us ever said anything about it), we actually think you’re legitimately from God! You unofficially have our thumbs-up. Great news, huh?

But no, that’s not gonna cut it with Jesus. It’s not enough for them to recognize Jesus comes from God. You wanna see God’s kingdom—the one Messiah’s gonna personally inaugurate into the world—you have to be born again.

John 3.1-4 KWL
1 There’s a person from the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name,
a leader of the Judeans.
2 At night, this Nicodemus comes to Jesus
and tells him, “Rabbi, we knew you, a teacher, came from God:
No one can do these milestones which you do
unless God is with them.”
3 In reply Jesus tells him, “Amen amen! I promise you:
Unless one is born all over again,
one cannot see God’s kingdom.”
4 Nicodemus tells Jesus, “How can a person, being old, be born?
One can’t enter one’s mother’s womb a second time and be born.”

Being born again is a big concept, and I’ll get to it in another article. Today I’m just gonna focus on Nicodemus: Who this guy is, why it’s a big deal for him to come to Jesus, why what Jesus taught him blindsided him, but why it was a big deal for both him and us Christians. After all, part of Jesus’s lesson to Nicodemus has John 3.16 in it y’know.

Jesus knows you’re gonna fail him.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 March 2024

John 2.23-25.

At the end of John 2 there’s this odd statement, which ties right together with chapter 3, which I’ll talk about at that time. It’s where John discusses Jesus’s new fans.

John 2.23-25 KWL
23 While Jesus is in Jerusalem,
at Passover, at the feast,
many trust in his name,
seeing his milestones which he did.
24 Jesus himself isn’t trusting them with himself,
because of the knowledge he has of everyone,
25 for he has no need of anyone testifying about people:
He’s aware of what is in people.

Some Christians read this passage and immediately think, “Ah, it’s the divinity. Jesus doesn’t trust people because he’s God, and still has God’s infinite knowledge of who people are, what they’re like, and what everyone’s secret, selfish motives are.”

Others read it and figure, “Ah, Jesus understands basic human depravity. He knows all humans are inherently selfish, and without the Holy Spirit that’s all we’ll ever be. So he knows better than to trust any of ’em.”

So which of the two does Jesus have?—full divine knowledge of the cosmos, or a generic understanding of a typical human trait? Well, I believe when God became human, he had to surrender his divine power, which includes his full divine knowledge of the cosmos, because all that data cannot physically fit into 2 pounds of brain matter. Your brain holds 2½ petabytes max. That’s a lot of data (it’s 20 quadrillion bits), but it’s nowhere near enough to know everything about ancient Jerusalem, much less the whole ancient world, and even less the 8 billion humans on today’s world.

Yeah, some Christians balk at that idea, because to their minds, God is power. Jesus without power wouldn’t be God. Problem is, Jesus with all that divine power wouldn’t authentically be human. He’d only be pretending to be human, and that’d make him a hypocrite, and hypocrisy is the one thing which annoys Jesus most.

So Jesus surrendered his power. But he can still tap God’s power same as we can: He has the Holy Spirit without limit, Jn 3.34 and the Spirit is just as infinitely powerful and knowledgeable as ever. If Jesus wants to know anything about anyone, the Spirit knows and will tell him. If Jesus wants to know just what kind of darkness lies in the heart of every other human being, the Spirit can give him a quick summary: Human depravity. We’re all messed up because we prioritize ourselves over other people and God.

And whether Jesus gained his knowledge through divine omniscience, or simply knowing about basic human depravity, it really doesn’t matter: He knows. He can’t trust other people. Not fully. They will fail. Even the best of them will fail him. Even his best student, Simon Peter; even the students who were family members, like James and John; they mean well, but they’re only human.

Even us. Even me. Even you. You will fail him. Sorry, but don’t kid yourself.

And don’t beat yourself up about it either. He already knows you’re gonna fail him. He loves you anyway. Wants you to follow him anyway. Wants you, once you fail, to repent, come back to him, and keep taking care of his sheep, same as Peter. Jn 21.17 Try not to fail, but if you do fail, you still have Jesus. 1Jn 2.1 Who won’t fail.

But other than Jesus, people fail. So don’t be so gobsmacked when they do!

Knock the temple down?

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March 2024

John 2.18-22.

During the first Passover we read of in the gospel of John, our Lord goes into temple, sees people selling animals in the Gentile Court, makes a whip, and drives the merchants out.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus got critiqued for it either the next morning, Mk 11.27-33, Mt 21.23-27 or days later. Lk 20.1-8 But in John it seems he got pushback immediately. Now it could’ve happened much later; John wasn’t always too worried about chronology. (As you’ll see when he briefly talks about Jesus rising from the dead.) John preferred to stick to themes, not timeline.

Nevertheless here’s the story.

John 2.18-22 KWL
18 So in reply, the Judeans tell Jesus,
“What milestone do you show us that you can do this?”
19 In reply Jesus tells them, “Break down this shrine.
In three days I’ll raise it.”
20 So the Judeans say, “This shrine took 46 years to build.
And you, in three days, will raise it?”
21 This Jesus is speaking of the shrine of his body,
22 so when he’s raised from the dead,
his students will remember he says this,
and believe the scripture, and the word Jesus says.

Okay. So Jesus shows up in temple, starts knocking stuff over, starts bossing people around. And in the context of the Judean culture and Hebrew religion, this means one of three things:

  • This guy legitimately hears the LORD and was ordered to speak for him, and is telling them to do this stuff because the LORD said so.
  • This guy works for the Romans, or the Judean senate, or some other civic authority with the power to actually decree these things.
  • This guy’s a nut.

Same as if he showed up in one of our churches and ordered the pastors to shut down the bookstore. Either the LORD decreed it, or he’s from the city or county and thinks they’re breaking the law, or he’s a nut.

Now if Jesus worked for the Romans, they’d probably do everything he told them. And protest a lot, because the priests had Roman citizenship and would demand their rights, and a fair trial, and maybe get the governor fired if they could.

But if Jesus works for the LORD… well, they figured they likewise worked for the LORD, and surely they could figure out whether the LORD had decided to upset their comfortable status quo by sending ’em a prophet or judge. So they wanted proof Jesus was a prophet of the LORD: Give us something which might confirm you’re legitimate.

And that… is actually a valid request. We’re supposed to test prophets. Not just accept they’re prophets because they have a website, and business cards printed up, and introduce themselves as “Prophet Whatshisname” whenever they say hello to people. All sorts of people claim that title, and way too many of them are talking to mental sock puppets instead of God. We need evidence. ’Cause if it’s really God, he can stand up to scrutiny. And fakes can’t.

Now no, they weren’t asking for a trick. Like Moses turning his staff into a snake, or spontaneously sprouting leprosy, or turning water to blood. Ex 4.1-9 Any illusionist can create one of those; the Egyptian illusionists certainly did. They were looking for a σημεῖον/simeíon, “milestone,” an event which couldn’t be self-fulfilling or coincidental. Typically this’d be an event which would happen in the near future.

And… well, Jesus gave ’em one. His own resurrection. Break him down, and in three days he’ll rise again. Which they did; which he did.

When Jesus got out the whip.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 March 2024

John 2.12-17.

Since we’re here, let’s just start with the story.

John 2.12-17 KWL
12 After the wedding, Jesus goes down to Capharnaum
with his mother, his siblings, and his students.
Not many days do they stay there;
13 it’s nearly the Judeans’ Passover,
and Jesus goes up to Jerusalem.
14 In temple Jesus finds cattle, sheep, and pigeon sellers,
and cashiers taking up residence.
15 Making a whip out of ropes,
Jesus throws everyone, plus sheep and cattle, out of temple.
He pours out the cashiers’ coins.
He flips over the tables.
16 He tells the pigeon sellers, “Get these things out of here!
Don’t make my Father’s house a market-house!”
17 Jesus’s students recalled it’s written,
“The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Ps 69.9

In the other gospels, Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple during Holy Week, Mk 11.15-17, Mt 21.12-13, Lk 19.45-46 meaning the week before Passover in the year 33. In John it takes place at Passover in the year 27, as deduced by how long the temple’d been under renovation. Jn 2.20 Hence the debate among scholars is whether Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple

  1. once in the year 33, but the gospels don’t have their facts straight, or
  2. twice—once in 27 at beginning of his mission, and once again in 33 before he was killed.

And let’s not rule out the possibility Jesus did this every single time he went to temple—in John’s gospel we read of the first time, and in the synoptic gospels we read of the last. Because why would Jesus drive the merchants out once, then put up with them for years thereafter, then right before he died finally drive them out again? I mean, it wasn’t okay for them to go back to business for all the years inbetween; wouldn’t Jesus have kept at them?

Funny thing is, the most common theory is it happened once, on Holy Week. Even the inerrantists in the churches where I was raised, teach it happened once. They wouldn’t overtly say only once, but that’s how they’d teach it: They’d say today’s passage came from Mark or Matthew or Luke… and they’d fill in some of the blanks in the story with John, implying this is all the same event.

One of the most obvious blanks they’d fill in from John: The whip. Because Jesus didn’t have a whip in the synoptic gospels. Really! Read ’em for yourself.

Mark 11.15-17 KJV
15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 16 and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. 17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
 
Matthew 21.12-13 KJV
12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
 
Luke 19.45-46 KJV
45 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; 46 saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Yep, no whip! But man do Christians love that image of Jesus with a whip. So they deliberately swipe it from John. Didn’t matter if they believed the story in John happened at another time; they just couldn’t pass up the idea of Jesus giving the merchants a good whipping. I leave it to you as to whether prioritizing the whip over the textual integrity suggests something sorta demented about them.

The less-common but popular variant of this theory is it still happened only once—but at the beginning of Jesus’s mission, following John’s timetable. Not during Holy Week. So why do the synoptic gospels put it there? ’Cause it’s more dramatic.

My view is Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple more than once. Maybe every time he went to temple. Maybe that’s why he had a whip in John, but not the other gospels: They learned their lesson by the time Holy Week came around.

Jesus provides six kegs for a drunken party.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 March 2024

John 2.6-11.

Continuing the story from yesterday. Yes, I’m aware this article has a provocative title. But read verse 10: The wedding planner pointed out you don’t serve wine like this when the guests are good and drunk, because they wouldn’t appreciate it. Indicating they were good and drunk.

Every time I’ve written about or taught on this passage, I run into someone who insists Jesus did not make wine. There’s a popular claim among Christian churches which don’t drink alcohol (and I’m part of the Assemblies of God, which is a whole denomination which doesn’t approve of alcohol) that Jesus actually made “new wine.” Because it’s new, they say, it hasn’t had the chance to be fermented. Ergo it’s actually grape juice.

If you’ve never heard that interpretation before, great! Me, I didn’t hear it till adulthood, and I’ve found it’s all over the place. It’s even wormed its way into children’s books.

Children’s book
From a children’s book in which Jesus turns water into “juice.”

This spin on the story makes no logical sense—for two reasons.

First, if the guests had only been drinking grape juice this whole time, how would they be insensible to how good Jesus’s “juice” is? Wouldn’t they easily be able to tell? I mean, if I’ve been drinking one of those 10-percent-juice drinks which are mostly pear juice with grape flavor added, and you swap it with 100-percent-grape-juice Welch’s, I’m gonna know. Even though I’m no grape-juice connoisseur.

Second, the bible brings up “new wine” multiple times, and in no way is it a reference to grape juice.

Hosea 4.11 KJV
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.

By “heart,” Hosea meant the part of us we think with; really the mind. Now, in what way does grape juice dull the mind? True, it’s full of sugar, and it’s a little hard to focus when you’re full of sugar… but one’s mind isn’t gone in the same way as when horniness or alcohol seize a person.

Matthew 9.17 KJV
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

If you’ve ever made wine, you probably know wine bottles don’t break in the fermentation process, which is precisely why winemakers use ’em. The translators of the KJV apparently didn’t know squat about winemaking, and ἀσκοὺς/askús actually means “wineskins,” not “bottles.” And old wineskins could burst when wine fermented further. But they’d need to be somewhat fermented in the first place… i.e. they’d need to be wine, not grape juice. Jesus also points out the old wine is better than the new stuff, Lk 5.39 indicating he and the people of his culture preferred the fermented stuff. Which ain’t grape juice.

Acts 2.13 KJV
Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

In context this verse is about the apostles speaking in tongues on the first Pentecost. Some recognized the tongues as their own foreign languages, and some mocked and said the apostles must’ve been drinking. Drinkng grape juice? Clearly not, and Simon Peter points out it’s too early in the morning for anyone to be drunk Ac 2.15 —and how can you be drunk on grape juice?

Nah. As the children’s book makes clear, some Christians have been indoctrinated with this “Jesus made juice” idea for as long as they can remember, and think it’s true because of course they would. How often do people seriously question something they’ve heard all their lives? (Not enough, obviously!)

Likewise there’s a popular interpretation that first-century Jews watered down their wine: They didn’t drink pure wine, but a mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent wine. Or 90 percent water and 10 percent wine; just enough wine to kill bacteria, because you couldn’t trust water back then. Watering down wine in order to party longer was a pagan Greek practice, and these folks assume Jews did it too. But nope; it’s also rubbish. Partly because these wedding guests in this story got drunk; plus there are all those admonitions in the bible to watch out for wine because it’ll get you drunk, so there was clearly something which required people to watch out!

Jesus made actual wine. Stuff just as fermented, just as strong, as the stuff Jews regularly drank at parties. Better quality of course; betcha it didn’t taste like feet at all. (Hey, no feet had ever touched it!) When God provides, he doesn’t provide inferior stuff or pathetic substitutes. We do that; we get stingy, and figure people don’t deserve the best… and should be happy to get anything, including inferior substitutes. God doesn’t think that way at all, and neither should his kids.