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

Jesus warns against blaspheming the Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 June

Mark 3.28-30, Matthew 12.31-32, Luke 12.10.

Fairly soon after we become Christians, we hear a rumor there’s such a thing as “the unpardonable sin.” Or multiple unpardonable sins. Certain things we can do which push God’s grace to the limit, ’cause apparently it has a limit, and these sins cross it. Do ’em and you’re going to hell. Game over, man, game over.

Problem is, the rumor doesn’t always tell us what the unpardonable sin is. When I was a kid I thought it was saying, “F--- God,” and Dad had committed it a bunch of times, so he was surely going to hell. I’ve had newbies ask me whether it was murder. Or Catholics tell me it was one of the seven deadly sins, ’cause what made ’em deadly was they’d send you to hell.

There are in fact multiple unpardonable sins, and today I’m get to what Jesus teaches about one of them, namely blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Turns up in the gospels, right after Jesus had to correct the Pharisee scribes for accusing him of using Satan to perform exorcisms.

Mark 3.28-30 KWL
28 “Amen! I promise you every sin will be forgiven humanity’s children,
and every blasphemy, however often people blaspheme.
29 But when anyone blasphemes the Holy Spirit they aren’t forgiven in the age to come:
In that age, they’ll be liable for a crime.”
30 For the scribes were saying, “Jesus has an unclean spirit.”
Matthew 12.31-32 KWL
31 “This is why I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.
But blaspheming the Spirit won’t be forgiven.
32 Whenever one says a word against the Son of Man, it’ll be forgiven them.
But whenever it’s said against the Holy Spirit, it won’t be forgiven them.
Neither in this age, nor in the next.”
Lk 12.10 KWL
“And anyone who’ll say a word about the Son of Man will be forgiven.
But speaking in blasphemy about the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven.”

So there y’go: Everyone can be forgiven anything and everything. But one massive exception is when people blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Do that, and you’re sitting out the age to come. No New Jerusalem for you. Just weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Scary, right? Hence people wanna make sure they never, ever commit this crime. Problem is, instead of actually avoiding it, many foolish Christians have chosen to redefine and re-explain blaspheming the Spirit till it no longer means what, at face value, Jesus is talking about. Largely because they and their favorite preachers are blaspheming the Spirit. Regularly. I’m not kidding.

So… does that mean they’re going to hell? Not necessarily. But I’ll get to that.

Don’t be surprised if they hate you. They hated Jesus too.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 May

Matthew 10.24-25, Luke 6.40, John 13.16, 15.18-25.

Today’s passages get frequently taken out of context by Christian jerks. So let’s deal with them up front.

Jerks either deliberately try to offend, or don’t care that they do offend. And there are a lot of Christians, religious or not, who behave this way. They want people to be outraged. They want division and strife. They don’t care that these are works of the flesh; they’re not that fruitful anyway, and are way more interested in doctrinal purity than goodness and kindness and grace. So when people get angry, they perversely assume they’re doing something right. After all, didn’t Jesus say we’re blessed when people condemn and rage against us like the ancients did the prophets? Lk 6.22-23 Everybody hates you! Rejoice!

Of course they’re going about it the wrong way. If we have God’s mysteries and share them, yet we don’t do so in love (and no, tough love doesn’t count), we’re an annoying noise; we’re nothing, and gain nothing. 1Co 13.1-3 You might play the best music on your new 150-decibel sound system, but people are gonna hate it because it’s too loud, and it’s 2 a.m. In the same way, people don’t hate Christian jerks because they’re Christian, so much as because they’re jerks. So let’s not be. Let’s be kind.

Jesus’s statements here are not for jerks. But man alive are jerks quick to quote them. “Oh, oh! I’m being persecuted. Well, Jesus said it’s to be expected. They hated him; they’ll hate us.”

Yeah, but they hated Jesus for entirely different reasons. They hated Jesus because he called BS on ’em. Exposed their fake piety. Loved people they didn’t consider worth loving. Objected to their loopholes. And worst of all: There was supernatural evidence he was right, because you can’t just cure people on Sabbath unless God endorses such behavior. Their doctrine was undermined by YHWH himself… which is why they insisted Jesus’s cures couldn’t be God things, and had to somehow be devilish.

So when Jesus brought up persecution in his Olivet Discourse, he reminded them this shouldn’t catch them by surprise. The ancients persecuted the prophets; their contemporaries hassled Jesus himself. Stands to reason people were eventually gonna come after them too. Again, not because they’re being dicks about the gospel: Because God’s kingdom runs contrary to their comfortable status quo.

So since they went after Jesus, don’t think we’re exempt. He’s the teacher; he’s the master; we’re just his apostles and students and slaves. Like he says.

Matthew 10.24-25 KWL
24 “A student isn’t above the teacher, nor a slave above their master.
25 It’s fine for the student to become like their teacher, and the slave like their master.
But if people call the homeowner ‘Baal Zevúl,’
how much more those of his house?”
Luke 6.40 KWL
“A student isn’t above the teacher,
and everyone so repaired will be like their teacher.”
John 13.16 KWL
“Amen amen! I promise you a slave isn’t greater than their master,
nor an apostle greater than their sender.”

Out of context, this passage is also occasionally used by false teachers to make the claim they’ve studied Jesus so much, so extensively, they’re just as authoritative as he. Which everyone should instantly recognize as rubbish, but you’d be surprised how many Christians are total suckers for a winsome cult leader. Everybody co-works with Jesus, but nobody co-leads with him. He’s Messiah; he’s king; he’s above every other name. No matter how wise his followers might get… and the smart ones are wise enough to stay humble and not pull rank.

Simon Peter denounces Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 April

Mark 14.66-72, Matthew 26.69-75, Luke 22.54-62, John 18.15-18, 25-27.

After dinner earlier that night, Jesus told his students they weren’t gonna follow him much longer; they’d scatter. At this point Jesus’s best student, Simon Peter, got up and foolhardily claimed this prediction didn’t apply to him.

Mark 14.29-31 KWL
29 Simon Peter told him, “If everyone else will get tripped up, it won’t include me.”
30 Jesus told him, “Amen, I promise you today, this night,
before the rooster crows twice, you’ll renounce me thrice.”
31 Peter said emphatically, “Even if I have to die for you,
I will never renounce you.” Everyone else said likewise.

And y’know, Peter wasn’t kidding. I’ve heard way too many sermons which mock Peter for this, who claim he was all talk. Thing is, he really wasn’t. When Jesus was arrested, Peter was packing a machete, and used it. Slashed a guy’s ear clean off. You don’t start swinging a work knife at a mob unless you’re willing to risk life and limb. Peter really was ready to fight to the death for Jesus.

But Jesus’s response was to cure the guy, then rebuke Peter: Jesus could stop his arrest at any time, but chose not to. Having a weapon was only gonna get Peter killed. Peter thought he was following God’s will, but he was in fact tripping up. And Jesus did say his students σκανδαλισθήσεσθε/skandalisthísesthe, “would be tripped up,” by the later events of that day. Despite his repeated warnings he was gonna die, his students kept expecting the Pharisee version of the End Times to unfold, where Messiah would destroy the Romans and take his throne… and instead Messiah got killed by the Romans.

This sort of turn of events would knock the zeal right out of anyone. Y’know how Peter later would up saying he didn’t know Jesus? At the time, he kinda didn’t. Thought he did; totally got him wrong. We all do, sometimes.

See, Peter was having a crisis of faith. Every Christian, if they’re truly following Jesus, is gonna have a point in our lives where we have to get rid of our immature misunderstandings about Jesus. And some of us fight tooth ’n nail to keep those misunderstandings. Even enshrine ’em. But in so doing, it means we’re not gonna grow in Christ any further. The Holy Spirit is trying to get us over that stumbling block, but we insist it’s not a block; it’s a wall.

To his credit, Peter didn’t scatter. He followed the mob, who took Jesus to the former head priest’s house, where Jesus had his unofficial trial before the proper trial before the Judean senate.

John 18.15-18 KWL
15 Simon Peter and another student followed Jesus.
That student was known by the head priest.
He went in, with Jesus, to the head priest’s courtyard.
16 Peter stood at the door outside.
So the other student, known to the head priest, came out and spoke to the doorman, who brought Peter in.
17 The doorman, a slavewoman, told Peter, “Aren’t you also one of this person’s students?”
Peter said, “I’m not.”
18 The slaves and servants stationed there had made a charcoal fire; it was cold.
They warmed themselves. Peter was also with them, standing and warming.

This’d be the first denial. But Jesus didn’t just say Peter would deny him, or pretend he didn’t know him, or pretend he didn’t follow him. Peter ἀπαρνήσῃ/aparnísi, “will entirely reject,” will renounce, his Lord. Mk 14.30 It’s not a white lie so he could merely stay out of trouble; Peter went overboard and publicly quit Jesus. Really.

Good thing he could take it back. As can we. But, y’know, don’t quit him, okay?

Can’t see; pretty sure they can.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March

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.

Jesus actually doesn’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 appropriately 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.

When Jesus says, “I don’t know you.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 March

Matthew 7.21-23, Luke 6.46, 13.23-27.

Evangelicals do actually quote the next teaching of Jesus a lot. But we tend to do this because we wanna nullify it.

See, it’s scary. It implies there are people who want into God’s kingdom, who honestly think they’re headed there… but when they stand before Jesus at the End, they get the rug pulled out from under them. Turns out they have no relationship with Jesus. Never did. He never knew them. Psyche!

It sounds like the dirtiest trick ever. How can a Christian go their whole life thinking they’re saved, only to find out no they’re not? And they’re not getting into the kingdom? And by process of elimination, they’re therefore going into the fire? Holy crap; shouldn’t this keep you awake nights?

So like I said, Christians figure the solution to this quandary is to nullify it. “Chill out, people: This story isn’t about you. ’Cause you’re good! You said the sinner’s prayer and believe all the right things. This story applies to the people who didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, didn’t believe all the right things, and don’t realize they’re heretics or in a cult. You’re good. Relax.”

Or you can take the Dispensationalist route: “Remember, people, God saves us by grace not works. And notice what Jesus says in this story about “Law-breakers” Mt 7.23 and “unrighteous workers.” Lk 13.27 He’s clearly talking to people of the last dispensation, back when God didn’t save anybody by grace yet, and they had to earn salvation by following the Law. Still true in Jesus’s day, but doesn’t count anymore. So we can safely ignore these scriptures. They don’t count for our day. They’re null.”

Obviously I’m not gonna go with either of those explanations. Partly ’cause I’m no dispensationalist, and neither is Jesus; partly ’cause we don’t earn salvation by accumulating correct beliefs. Humans are saved by grace, and always have been.

So why doesn’t grace appear to apply to these poor schmucks, who tried the narrow door only to find it bolted shut?

Luke 13.23-27 KWL
23 Someone told Jesus, “Master, the saved are going to be few.”
Jesus told them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door.
I tell you many will seek to enter, and not be able to.
25 At some point the owner could be raised up, and could close the door.
You standing outside might begin to knock at the door, saying, ‘Master, unbolt it for us!’
and in reply he tells you, ‘I don’t know you. Where are you from?’
26 Then you’ll begin to say, ‘We ate with you! And drank! And you taught us in the streets!’
27 And the speaker will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!
Get away from me, unrighteous workers.’ ”

What’d’you mean the Master won’t recognize us? Isn’t he omniscient? Didn’t he at least remember all the times we hung out together? We had a meal with him! (Or at least holy communion—hundreds, if not thousands of times!) We studied what he taught! Why’s Jesus suffering from amnesia or dementia all of a sudden?

Like I said, scary idea. Lots of us like to imagine our salvation is a done deal, a fixed thing, something we can never lose unless we actively reject it. This story throws a bunch of uncertainty into the idea, and we hate uncertainty. We wanna know our relationship with Jesus is real, and that it’s gonna continue into Kingdom Come.

The Golden Rule.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 February

Matthew 7.12, Luke 6.31.

“Do as you’d be done by.”

That’s C.S. Lewis’s wording. It’s probably the briefest form I’ve found of the “Golden Rule,” as it’s called. I grew up hearing it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—and it actually doesn’t come from the King James Version, which has it, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Lk 6.31 KJV I tried tracking down the other wording, and the earliest I’ve found it is 1790.

My translation of the two different ways Jesus taught it:

Matthew 7.12 KWL
“So as much as you want people doing for you, you do that for them:
That’s a summary of the Law and the Prophets.”
Luke 6.31 KWL
“Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

It’s “the Law and the Prophets,” as Jesus put it—meaning the bible of his day, the Old Testament. (Yes the OT consists of Law, Prophets, and Writings. But back then, when Sadducees and Samaritans insisted the bible only consisted of the Law, you only had to suggest there were more books in it than just those of Moses, and people understood you meant Prophets and Writings were included.) The entire moral teaching of the scriptures could be distilled into this one concept.

As seen in other religions.

The Golden Rule is a simple idea, one found in pretty much every religion. But the way Jesus put it is a little different than the ways other religions have it. In Christianity it’s an active command: Do as you’d be done by. Other religions make it passive: Do not, as you’d not be done by. Or as Kong Qiu (Latin “Confucius”) put it in the 500s BC, “Never impose on others what you wouldn’t choose for yourself.” Analects 15.24

The Pharisees of Jesus’s day had also figured it out. Yeah, Christians nowadays assume the Pharisees were just a bunch of hypocrites who spent all their time debating the finer points of the Law instead of actually obeying it… and y’know, they did do that. So do we. But the guys who founded the Pharisaic tradition actually did want to follow God. Some of ’em wanted to make God’s commands easier to follow, not by using every loophole they could invent, but by summarizing them.

This is the mindset of the story of Hillel the Elder in the Talmud. Goes like so.

On another occasion, a certain pagan came to Shammai and told him, “Make me a convert, but on one condition: Teach me the entire Law while I stand on one foot.” Shammai smacked him away with the measuring stick in his hand.

Next he went to Hillel, who told him, “What’s hateful to you, don’t do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Go learn it.” Gemara on Shabbat 2.5

I don’t know whether Jesus knew this story at all, or whether the Hillel story was plagiarized a bit from Jesus. Doesn’t matter. Hillel’s version is still a passive-form Golden Rule, and Jesus’s is active-form: Do.

And Jesus actually isn’t the only guy to teach an active-form Golden Rule. There were others! They’re rare though.

  • The Chinese philosopher Mozi (ca. 470–391BC), who put it, “One would do for others as one would do for oneself.”
  • Muhammad ibn Abdullah, founder of Islam (570–632) who, according to Shiite tradition, put it, “As you would have people do to you, do to them.”

Everybody else seems to have simply found it easier to forbid evil than encourage good.

Active good, not passive.

So, same as Jesus taught, we gotta have other people in mind when we act. Think about their wishes. Think about what’s good for them. Think about them.

Don’t think of other people as obstacles, roadblocks to move aside, or pawns to manipulate when they get in our way. They’re not that. They’re God’s children. They’re people with hopes, dreams, desires… some good, some bad, some we consider silly. But again: It’s not what we want. It’s about them.

“Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you,” George Bernard Shaw cynically wrote in his 1903 play Man and Superman. “Their tastes may not be the same.” Shaw wasn’t entirely kidding: We have a bad habit of projecting our motives, wants, and attitudes upon others. “I like this,” we figure, “therefore she must like this.” But that’s not truly thinking about them. That’s projected selfishness. Let’s not commit that. Let’s find out what they really want before we do for them.

“Do as you’d be done by” forces us to emerge from our self-centered universe and think about others for once. And since the starting-point of sin is the exact opposite—looking out for number one, regardless of all others, including God—that suppression of our self-interest in favor of someone else’s point of view is indeed the starting-point of rightness.

It likewise reflects God’s behavior. He does stuff for us, and you’ll notice all the stuff he does, he’d kinda like us to do back to him. (And, for that matter, do for everyone else.) He loves us. He’s infinitely forgiving. He’s patient, kind, puts up with all things, believes and hopes and endures all things, demonstrates joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He wants our best. We should want his best.

When we spend some time meditating on just exactly what the end-result would be of really following Jesus’s Golden Rule, we’re gonna find ourselves coming to conclusion after conclusion that mirrors what we find throughout God’s commands: His profound concern for others, his order to the universe, his ideal way of life. We’re gonna see God’s love, and we’re gonna grow in our love for God. ’Cause it’s all there, hiding in plain sight. So think on it.

The widow’s mite, and ancient money’s value.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 January

Mark 12.41-44, Luke 21.1-4.

On the temple grounds there’s a room called the treasury; Greek γαζοφυλάκιον/yadzofylákion, a “guarded vault.” Thing is, the treasury’s in a place inaccessible to women. And since there’s a woman in this story, throwing an offering in, it simply can’t be what the writers of these gospels meant by “treasury.” It has to be in some other place.

Hence most commentators are pretty sure yadzofylákion actually refers to the lockboxes which the priests set in the Women’s Court. Each of these boxes were at the end of a big metal funnel—which looked like a shofar, a ram’s-horn trumpet, and may very well have been what Jesus was thinking of when he talked about trumpeting your charitable giving. Mt 6.2 Because throwing metal into a big metal funnel made a loud noise. And throwing lots of metal—like a big pile of bronze coins, as opposed to, say, far fewer silver or gold coins—made a big ol’ noise.

Probably too noisy to teach! Yet that’s what the gospels describe Jesus trying to do by these funnels.

Mark 12.41-44 KWL
41 As he was seated facing the offering boxes,
Jesus watched how the crowds threw bronze coins into the boxes.
Many plutocrats threw many coins,
42 and one poor widow who came, threw two lepta, i.e. a quadrans. [8¢]
43 Calling his students, Jesus told them, “Amen, I promise you:
This poor widow threw more into the box than all who threw in.
44 For all the others threw out of their abundance, and she her need:
Everything she threw in, was all her life.”
Luke 21.1-4 KWL
1 Looking up, Jesus saw plutocrats throwing their gifts into the offering boxes.
2 Jesus also saw a certain poor widow throwing in two lepta. [8¢]
3 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you: This poor widow threw in more than everyone.
4 For all these people threw in their gifts out of their abundance,
and she from her poverty threw in everything she had in her life.”

The widow donated two λεπτὰ/leptá, which the KJV calls a “mite,” meaning the lowest-denomination coin there is. A penny would be the United States’ cheapest coin; that’s our mite. It might not have been familiar with everyone in the Roman Empire, so Mark states it’s worth a quadrans, the Roman quarter. Worth about 8 cents back then, though money went much further. She could probably buy lunch with it. A small lunch.

Double standards.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 January

Mark 4.24, Matthew 7.1-5, Luke 6.37-38, 41-42.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a really popular verse for people who don’t wanna condemn anyone. But I already wrote an article about how people take it out of context. People use it to avoid making judgment statements, or to rebuke those who do… and it’s not at all what Jesus means.

So today I get to what Jesus means. This bit of his Sermon on the Mount comes right after Jesus taught us about worry. Which is appropriate: Don’t prejudge circumstances indiscriminately, and don’t prejudge people unfairly.

Matthew 7.1-2 KWL
1 “Don’t criticize. Thus you won’t be criticized.
2 For you’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with.
The measurement you measure with, will measure you.”
Luke 6.37 KWL
“Don’t criticize, and you won’t be criticized.
Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged.
Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.”

Obviously I translate κρίνετε/krínetë, “criticize,” differently than the KJV’s “judge.” ’Cause our English word judge includes a few senses the Greek doesn’t. Really, this lesson is about decision-making, not condemnation. There’s another word for judgment and condemnation, which Luke uses in verse 37: Κατεδικάσατε/katedikásatë, “pass sentence.” That word is what we nowadays mean by judging. Krínetë is really just about holding things up to our personal standards, and finding ’em acceptable… or not.

Which we all do. As we should. Everyone evaluates stuff, daily, as part of our decision-making processes. We decide which shoes to wear, which breakfast cereals to eat, which coffee blend to drink, which movies to watch, whether to read TXAB on a daily basis… Life is choices. Every choice involves weighing our options, and critiquing them.

Jesus expects this, which is why he follows up “Don’t critique” with “You’ll be critiqued by the very criticism you criticize with.” It’s a warning that if we apply this criticism to other people, to serious issues… we’re gonna get held up to that very same standard.

Human nature is to consider ourselves the exception to the rule. When we critique others, we decide whether their behaviors meet with our approval or not. But when we do the very same things, our standards suddenly change to favor ourselves. When another person tells a lame joke, it means they have no sense of humor; when we tell the very same joke, we’re having ironic fun. When others discriminate against people of color, it’s prejudicial racism; when we do it, it’s because they fit a profile. When others cheat on their spouses it’s awful; when we do it… oh you just don’t understand the circumstances; we’re in love. And so on. We get a free pass; others don’t.

But Jesus makes it clear we don’t get a free pass. If we ordinarily recognize a behavior is offensive or wrong, it’s just as wrong when we do it. We’re not beyond similar criticism. Are we doing right? Because we’ve no business setting ourselves as above criticism, as on a higher level than anyone else. We aren’t exempt. Especially when we fall short of our own judgment.

Whereas Jesus said it in Luke: “Forgive, and you’ll be forgiven.” If people are gonna judge us by our own behavior, and our behavior reflects the fruit of the Spirit more so than yet another self-righteous a--hole, we’re gonna go a whole lot further.

The Talents Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Matthew 25.13-30.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deliver us from evil.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

Matthew 6.13.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus has us pray not to be led to temptation—properly, not put to the test, whether such tests tempt us or not. Instead, in contrast, we should pray we be delivered from evil.

Matthew 6.13 KJV
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The original text is ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ/allá rýsë imás apó tu ponirú, “but rescue us from the evil.”

Now. The Greek τοῦ/tu is what grammarians call a determiner, although I’m pretty sure your English teachers called it a definite article, ’cause that’s what English determiners usually do: This noun is a particular noun. When you refer to “the bus,” you don’t mean a bus, any ol’ generic interchangeable bus; you mean the bus, this bus, a specific bus, a definite bus.

So when people translate tu ponirú, they assume the Greek determiner is a definite article: Jesus is saying, “Rescue us from the evil.” Not evil in general; not all the evil we’ll come across in life. No no no. This is a definite evil. It’s the evil. You gotta personify it.

The Holy Spirit reminds us what Jesus taught… assuming we know what Jesus taught.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 September

John 14.25-26.

Most Christians figure Jesus’s students followed him three years. It might actually have been longer than that.

The idea of three years comes from the fact three Passovers get mentioned in John, Jn 2.13, 6.4, 11.55 the last one being the Passover for which he died. But just because John mentioned three particular Passovers doesn’t mean these were the only Passovers which took place during Jesus’s teaching time. Coulda been nine for all we know.

No I’m not kidding:

7 BC: Jesus was born.
24 CE: Jesus’s 30th birthday. Luke states he was ὡσεὶ/oseí, “like,” 30 when he started teaching. Lk 3.23 Didn’t say exactly 30, but let’s start from there.
33 CE: Jesus died. And woulda been about 39.

Time for some basic arithmetic. If Jesus started teaching in the year 24, and “like” just means he was a few months shy of 30, by the year 33 he’d’ve been teaching nine years. If “like” instead means he was already in his thirties; say 33… he’d’ve been teaching six years. (Still more than three.) And if “like” means he was coming up on 30, that he was actually younger than 30, like 27… he’d’ve been teaching twelve years.

Yeah. You thought Jesus was just giving these kids a two-year course in church planting. Nope. Pharisee rabbis provided young men a full secondary education. And as the best teacher ever, you know Jesus taught ’em so well they astounded the Senate, who assumed because they hadn’t been to their academies they were ἀγράμματοί/aghrámmatí, “unschooled” and ἰδιῶται/idióte, “idiots.” Ac 4.13

But one significant boost to their education—and really to every Christian’s education—is the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, Jesus’s students had listened to him speak in synagogue every Friday night. Yeah, they listened to him speak to crowds every other day of the week. Yeah, they sat in on his lessons as the people at dinner parties and every other social function decided to ask Jesus a question or two. And of course there were all those teaching moments as they hung out with him.

But how much of that stuff are you naturally gonna remember? Like really remember? Remember in detail? Remember in useful detail, like when you actually need it in real life? Well, a good teacher will help you memorize stuff by reinforcing it time and again. But for Christians we get another boost because the Holy Spirit remembers absolutely everything. And if we listen to him, as we should, he’ll remind us of everything Jesus taught us. Jesus said so.

John 14.25-26 KWL
25 While staying with you, I spoke these things to you.
26 The Assistant, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name:
This person will teach you everything, and remind you of everything I told you.”

There’s a catch though: What has Jesus told you?

The Holy Spirit of truth… and dense Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September

John 14.15-17.

Christians take for granted that we receive the Holy Spirit by virtue of being Christian: When we say the sinner’s prayer and claim Jesus as our individual savior, we individually, automatically get the Holy Spirit to indwell us and guarantee us an eternal place in God’s kingdom. Right?

Right. But the assumption Jesus makes when he says as much to his students in John, is his students don’t just passively believe in him. Don’t just passively believe all the correct things about him, and have the proper “faith”, and that’s what saves us. And once we die after a lifetime of taking God’s grace for granted, we get to use the Holy Spirit as our entry fee to heaven.

The Holy Spirit’s been granted to us to help us continue to follow Jesus.

John 14.15-17 KWL
15 “When you love me you’ll keep my commands,
16 and I’ll make a request of the Father, and he’ll give you another Assistant,
because he’ll be with you in this age: 17 The truthful Holy Spirit.
The world can’t comprehend him, because it neither sees nor knows him.
You know him, because he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

The Spirit has an active purpose in our lives. Not just a passive one.

Mammonists versus God.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 July

Luke 16.8-15.

the Shrewd Butler Story, Jesus commended the butler for using his boss’s money to generate goodwill instead of profits, and his moral was for his followers to do likewise.

Mammonists stumble all over this story. To them the point of money isn’t to use it as a resource, but to accumulate it and gain power by it. To their minds the butler was completely untrustworthy. He was already accused of squandering it, Lk 16.1 and then he turned round and deliberately squandered it by changing his boss’s debtors’ receipts. Lk 16.5-7 He made it look like he collected more money than he actually had; like his boss was owed less than he truly was; and he did it to benefit himself instead of enriching his boss—which was his job, wasn’t it? He embezzled from his boss. He stole. He’s a thief. There’s a command against theft in the bible somewhere; it’s one of the bigger ones!

So Mammonists really don’t know what to do with Jesus commending this butler… except to conclude, “I guess Jesus appreciates shrewdness over goodness.”

No he doesn’t. As I pointed out when I dealt with the story, the butler had full authority over his boss’s estate, and could legitimately do whatever he wished with it. Including forgive debts. He stole nothing. He embezzled nothing. It might be improper, ’cause you certainly can’t afford to do such things all the time. But it wasn’t sin.

…Well, unless losing money is a sin. And to Mammonists, that’s an egregious sin. Isn’t wise at all. Indicates you’re not worthy of having money in the first place, and deserve to lose it all. (There’s a lot of karma-based thinking in Mammonism, ’cause it helps Mammonists justify the iffy things they do to gain and hoard wealth.)

Jesus isn’t Mammonist, and neither are the butler and his boss in the story. They rightly recognize money as a resource, not a raison d’être. It’s a means to an end; it’s not the end itself. By contrast Mammonists figure it is the goal, and the Christians among ’em figure the whole point of turning to Jesus is so we can gain stuff. Mansions in New Jerusalem. Golden crowns full of jewels. Treasures in heaven, which they constantly imagine as material possessions they get to keep forever. And, if they’re into the prosperity gospel, they can even tap into some of that wealth now.

As a non-Mammonist, the plutocrat in the story recognized money—even “filthy lucre,” as I translated τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ/to adíko mamoná (KJV “the unrighteous mammon”) —is here today, gone tomorrow. Friends can be just as transitory, but when friendship is done right, it doesn’t have to be. And the goodwill his butler generated with his debtors, was gonna come in handy in future—and not just for the butler. It was a wise move, and a wise boss would keep such a guy around.

Luke 16.8-9 KWL
8 “The butler’s master praised the impropriety, for the butler acted shrewdly,
for the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light of the same generation.
9 I tell you, make yourselves friends out of improper mammon,
so when it runs out, they might take you into their great houses.”

“Their great houses” is how I rendered τὰς αἰωνίους σκηνάς./tas eoníus skinás, “the eternal tents” (KJV “everlasting habitations”). Y’get many Christians who insist it’s about God accepting us into heaven—despite a plural they letting you into plural tents—or the idea that once we get to New Jerusalem, we’re greeted by all the needy people we’ve helped. But properly it’s a euphemism for old money, for great families who’ve been indirectly running the country forever, and they’re the very best friends to have whenever we run afoul of temporal political leaders. That is what the butler was thinking of when he came up with his scheme: He wanted to be taken in by some other plutocrat. Lk 16.4 And it’d be just as shrewd of us Christians to have a few plutocrats in our corner.

Can we handle money? Or really anything important?

Of course Jesus had more to say on the subject of money, and continued:

Luke 16.10-13 KWL
10 “Trustworthy in little things means trustworthy in big things.
Improper in little things means improper in big things.
11 So when you’re not trustworthy with filthy lucre, who will trust you with truth?
12 If you’re not trustworthy with another’s things, who will give you your own things?
13 No slave is able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”

Pharisee logicians taught the principle of light and heavy (Hebrew קַל וחומר/qal v’khomér), which westerners call the argumentum a fortiori, “argument from the stronger [point].” Jesus’s statement “Trustworthy in little things means trustworthy in big things” is a great example of it: If it’s true in a small instance, in a simple case, it’s just as true (and way more consequential) in a big instance, in a complicated situation. If the butler can’t be trusted with money, he can’t be trusted anywhere. If we can’t be trusted with money, we can’t be trusted anywhere.

Mammonists regularly misinterpret this to say we oughta have our financial houses in order. And by “in order,” they mean profitable. We oughta reduce our unnecessary expenses, ’cause they’re bleeding us dry. We oughta eliminate debt, ’cause the interest payments are largely keeping us in debt. Cut up those credit cards! Buy, not rent. Buy used instead of new. Buy generics instead of name-brand items. Use coupons. Squeeze those pennies till Lincoln farts.

Um… was what the butler did profitable? No.

“But in the long run it is,” Mammonists sometimes claim: The goodwill generated by forgiving a few debts, means people are more likely to do business with the boss in future. They’ll think, “He knocked off a few jars of oil from my debt, so I kinda owe him one,” or that maybe he’ll give them another surprise discount in the future. More business, more profits. Shrewd.

And again, not what the butler did. He wasn’t thinking of his boss’s reputation, but his own. He wanted people to think well of him—and if they thought well of his boss instead of him, and didn’t even think of him at all, his scheme would’ve failed. He was offering the debt reduction, not his boss. Spin it all you like into it being good business, good public relations. But you’d be missing the point.

Likewise if you take the other extreme and conclude the butler wasn’t trustworthy. He’d only be untrustworthy if he lied to his boss. He didn’t. His boss would know about the scheme, ’cause it’d be kinda obvious: His debtors had marked up the receipts. Lk 16.5-7 There was no such thing as correction fluid back then: The old amount would be crossed out on the papyrus, and the new one written down. (Or, if they wastefully used parchment for bookkeeping, the old amount was scratched off—but still visible.) Didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened—and the boss immediately recognized what was up, and found it clever.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about not being a slave to both God and Mammon. I’ve commented more than once how Americans are kinda determined to prove Jesus wrong. We’ve done a lousy job of it so far. We’ve mostly just reimagined Jesus till the version of him we follow approves of all our greed and materialism. But at that point we’re not following Jesus anymore; just our own desires, mainly our desire for wealth.

Mammonist Pharisees.

No surprise, the Pharisees in Jesus’s audience balked at this lesson. Same as Christians do nowadays—the difference being that Christians pretend to follow Jesus anyway. Pharisees figured they could take or leave him, and in this case they figured they could even mock him.

Luke 16.14-15 KWL
14 Hearing these things, the silver-loving Pharisees mocked Jesus.
15 Jesus told them, “You justify yourselves before people—and God knows your hearts.
Those who are exalted before people, are disgusting before God.”

Sounds kinda rude of Jesus, but knowing his character, we know the reason he said this was not to slam his hecklers. It was to warn ’em of reality: Their wealth is not the indication of God’s approval they believed it to be. Some people are wealthy because God enriches ’em. The rest are wealthy because they stole it, inherited it, are idiots who were given wealth by other idiots (but then again I did just mention inheritance), or they got it through dumb luck. Institutional biases keep certain groups poor, and of course the wealthy have rigged things so they can keep their wealth. There’s a lot of unfairness in the system, and people have been tricked into thinking nothing but hard work can overcome it.

But like Jesus said, God knows our hearts. Exalting ourselves in order to justify our wealth, or to justify materialism, or to claim our riches make us better and worthier and greater: God finds it disgusting. Not just because Mammonism is idolatry; because it blinds us to all the sins we commit so we can hold onto our stuff, and put it ahead of God’s kingdom.

The Spirit empowers us to speak.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 June

Mk 13.9-10, Mt 10.17-20, Lk 21.12-15.

When Jesus warned his students about the coming tribulation in his Olivet Discourse, he told ’em he (or the Holy Spirit, depending on the gospel) would have their back when it came time to testify before kings and leaders. He put it this way.

Mark 13.9-11 KWL
9 Now look at you yourselves. They’ll turn you in to the Senate. They’ll cane you in synagogues.
They’ll stand you before leaders and kings because of me, to witness to them.
10 You have to first declare the gospel to all the gentiles.
11 When they turn you in, don’t premeditate what you might say:
Instead whatever’s given you at that hour, say it, for you aren’t speaking; the Holy Spirit is.”
Matthew 10.17-20 KWL
17 “Watch out for the people: They’ll turn you in to the Senate and their synagogues. They’ll flog you.
18 They’ll take you to leaders and kings because of me, to testify to them and the gentiles.
19 When they turn you in, don’t worry about what you might say at the time you give a defense:
20 It isn’t you speaking, but your Father’s Spirit in you speaking.
Luke 21.12-15 KWL
12 “Before all these signs they’ll lay their hands on you and persecute,
turning you in to synagogues and prisons,
dragging you before kings and leaders, because of my name:
13 This will become your chance to testify!
14 So make up your minds to not pre-prepare your defense:
15 I’ll give you a mouth and wisdom which they can’t withstand,
which contradicts everything brought in opposition to you.”

Jesus is speaking of when we’re put on trial—or not, ’cause if you weren’t a citizen, Romans didn’t bother with due process, and a lot of countries behave the same way. (Too often Americans don’t either. We don’t always recall that rights aren’t granted by our Constitution but by our Creator—so due process isn’t an American right but a human right.) If given the chance to defend ourselves, or simply speak for ourselves, don’t have a premeditated, canned answer. Speak off the cuff. It’ll sound authentic… for it’ll be authentic. And he and the Holy Spirit will help.

Now this was considered a risky idea in Jesus’s day, and in the Roman Empire. Because if you were a politician or attorney back then, you were expected to know the art of public speaking; in other words classical forensic rhetoric. It was expected of every public speaker, especially if you were in government. If you had to stand before a court, a senate, a praetor, an emperor, or the general public, you had to know and follow Roman standard expectations for public speaking. If you didn’t, and spoke for yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it for you, you were considered uneducated, amateurish, stupid, and not to be taken seriously or listened to.

The rules of rhetoric.

Aristotle of Athens taught there were three things every public speaker oughta have.

CREDIBILITY (Greek ἔθος/éthos, “[good] habits”). Speakers gotta sound like they know what they’re doing. They have to have practiced in front of enough crowds to where they’re comfortable in speaking. This’d help them come across as sincere, knowledgeable, confident, trustworthy—in short, believable. ’Cause if the listeners don’t believe you, there’s no point in speaking.

If you aren’t actually sincere, knowledgeable, confident, or trustworthy, you gotta fake these things—although Aristotle preferred you actually have a good character, instead of faking one. (Word will get out, y’know.)

So speakers had to prove they knew what they were talking about. And y’notice the folks who gave their testimonies in the bible, tended to talk somewhat knowledgeably about their subjects. Stephen’s big long speech about Israeli history, given during his trial, tends to strike people as unnecessary, but it absolutely wasn’t: It was so the Judean senate would recognize Stephen knew his bible. So when Stephen came to his conclusions—that God didn’t need a temple, plus the senate had assassinated their Messiah—these conclusions couldn’t be dismissed as if they came from some babbling moron. It’s no wonder they wanted him dead.

PASSION (πάθος/páthos). Speakers have to be passionate about their causes. They gotta connect with the audience, and evoke strong emotion in their listeners.

Yes, to manipulate them. ’Cause if your logic and reasoning isn’t strong enough to make your case, you can at least gain the audience’s sympathy, and maybe tip a ruling towards your favor. So tell a heartwarming story. Tell a joke. Use puns. Exaggerate. Shout a little. Cry a little. Pause dramatically. Shock ’em with the unexpected.

Nowadays we consider emotional manipulation, in public speaking, to be wrong. Logic, not emotion, should rule the day. And to a large degree the ancient Greeks and Romans agreed. But the reality is, we humans are emotional creatures, and a lot of us do let our emotions rule. So rhetoricians figured it’d be stupid to ignore this tactic. They taught their students to do it… so everybody did it. Audiences even expected speakers to do it: It wasn’t considered a good speech unless it tugged your heartstrings a little.

So this is what Paul did in his own trials: Spoke of his past as a prosecutor. Spoke of his dramatic conversion. Spoke of his new zeal for the gospel and God’s kingdom. Then took a shot at evangelizing his hearers—as Agrippa Herod realized, and Paul totally admitted.

LOGIC (λόγος/lóghos, “message”). By lóghos Aristotle meant a well-reasoned message, explained with a little inductive or deductive reasoning.

Inductive thinking takes common knowledge (whether there’s any truth to it or not, which is the usual flaw with inductive reasoning) and try to base our conclusions on it. Deductive takes a statement, finds exceptions to it (“If my client were poor he’d rob a bank, but he’s not poor”), and whittles away at the statement till you can’t help but reject it. Rhetoricians shrewdly advised their students to not finish their chain of reasoning (“…therefore he didn’t rob that bank!”), because the audience usually had enough sense to figure that part out… plus they felt clever for doing so, and making ’em feel good keeps ’em on your side.

We see the apostles practice inductive logic by quoting bible, which their listeners trusted, and drawing conclusions from it. As for deductive logic, this appears far more often in the apostles’ letters than their speeches, but we see it pretty clearly in Peter and John’s defense:

Acts 4.19-20 KWL
19 In reply Simon Peter and John told them, “Decide, by God, if it’s right to heed you or God:
20 We can’t not talk about what we saw and heard.”

Supernatural public speaking.

Paul had been to academy, the ancient equivalent of university, studying under Rabban Gamaliel the Elder. Jesus’s students, particularly the Twelve, had not. They’d only been to synagogue. (Though their rabbi was Jesus of Nazareth, which counts for an awful lot!) So while Paul definitely received training in rhetoric, as other accounts of Gamaliel make clear, it wasn’t something you’d expect to find in synagogue lessons. Jesus was an out-of-the-ordinary teacher, so he might’ve taught basic rhetoric to his students… or they might’ve picked up some of it by listening to him speak.

Either way, it startled the Judean senators when they saw Peter and John’s παρρησίαν/parrisían, “speaking ability” (KJV “boldness”). These guys were comfortable with public speaking. Yet they had no rhetorical training the senators were familiar with; they’d never been to academy; they only studied under Jesus. Either Jesus slipped ’em some advanced subjects, or (which Jesus makes clear in the Olivet Discourse) they’d been gifted by the Holy Spirit.

’Cause God can do that. When we have the ability to hear the Spirit—and we do!—and we practice listening to him, he tells us what to say. No, he won’t take over our lips and work us like a ventriloquist’s dummy. He simply tells us what to say, and it ends up being just the right thing. It’s supernaturally good.

Is it therefore guaranteed the Spirit will get us an acquittal? Absolutely not. Stephen got killed. Eventually Peter got killed. Eventually John got exiled; eloquent or not, he didn’t talk his way out of it. The Twelve were martyred, all proclaiming Jesus till the end.

Jesus doesn’t promise any pretribulation rapture. He only promises those who endure to the end will be saved. Mt 24.13 We might not convince anyone. Might get killed. But despite our death, Jesus is resurrection and life. We may die, but thanks to Jesus, we’ll live. Trust him.

And if you ever find yourself in circumstances where you gotta defend yourself under pressure, trust the Holy Spirit. He may not give us an instant crash course in Aristotelian rhetoric. But he’ll still tell us just what we need to say.

Jesus dies. And takes our sin with him.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April

Mark 15.33-39, Matthew 27.45-54, Luke 23.44-48, John 19.28-37.

Around noon on 3 April 33, it got dark, and stayed that way till Jesus died. Obviously God was behind it, but we don’t know how. No solar eclipses in that part of the world, that time of year, so that’s out. Volcanoes have been known to darken the sky. So has weather. Regardless of how he pulled it off, God decided he wanted his Son’s death to happen in the dark.

As he was hanging on the cross, various folks were taunting him, and Matthew describes the head priests, scribes, and elders even taunting him with a bit of Psalm 22:

Matthew 27.43 KWL
He follows God? God has to rescue him now, if he wants him—for he said ‘I’m God’s son.’ ”
Psalm 22.8 LXX (KWL)
He hopes for the Lord, who has to release him,
who has to save him because he wants him.

Considering this psalm was so obviously getting fulfilled by Jesus’s death, taunting him with it just showed how far the Judean leaders’ unbelief went. They really didn’t think the psalm applied to Jesus any. It absolutely did.

That is why, round the ninth hour after sunrise (roughly 2:30 PM) Jesus shouted out the first line of that psalm: Elo’í Elo’í, lamá azavtáni/“My God my God, for what reason do you abandon me?” Ps 22.1 I know; it sounds different after the gospels’ authors converted it to Greek characters.

Problem is, by that point the scribes seem to have left, ’cause nobody understood a word he said. Jesus was quoting the original Hebrew, but only scribes knew Hebrew; the Judeans spoke Aramaic, and the Romans spoke Greek. And since Eloí sounded a little like Eliyáhu/“Elijah,” that’s the conclusion they leapt to: He was calling for Elijah. So they added that to their mocking. “Wait; let’s see whether Elijah rescues him.”

In our day Christians have leapt to a different conclusion—a heretic one. They might know Jesus was quoting scripture, but think he quoted it ’cause the Father literally, just then, did abandon him.

Seriously. Here’s the theory. When the lights went out, this was the point when Jesus became the world’s scapegoat: The sins of the entire world were laid on his head, Lv 16.20-22 so that when he died, our sin died too. Which is possible; the scapegoat idea is one of many theories about how atonement works. But the scriptures never indicate when such a transfer was made. The world going dark just feels like a good, dramatic time for such an event to happen.

Here’s when it goes wonky. After the sin-transfer was made to the scapegoat, someone was supposed to turn this goat loose in the wilderness to die. But since Jesus was literally nailed to the spot, he could hardly wander off… so the Father removed himself. Other Christians insist it’s because the Father finds sin so offensive, he couldn’t bear to watch. So he dimmed the lights (as if God can’t see in the dark) and turned his face away from his beloved, but defiled, Son.

Here’s why it’s heresy: God is One. You can’t separate the Son from the Father. They’re one being, not two. The trinity is indivisible.

The rest of us humans are separate beings from the Father—yet Paul stated nothing can separate us from his love. Ro 8.38-39 So if that’s the case, how in creation could anything, even sin, separate God the Son from God the Father?

Nope; not gonna work. There’s no biblical basis for the idea either. Just a lot of Christians who hate sin, who kinda like the idea God hating it so much he’d leave… so don’t you sin, or God’ll quit on you. It’s a great way to scare the dickens out of sinners.

But if it were that easy to drive God away, you’d think the devil’s work would’ve driven God entirely off the planet. Ironically I find a lot of Calvinists, folks fond of insisting nothing’s mightier than God, likewise teaching the idea that the Father turned his face away from his innocent Son—instead of meeting the defeated enemy of sin head-on.

I could rant on, but I’ll step away from the bad theology and quote what the gospels did say happened when the lights went out.

Mark 15.33-39 KWL
33 When the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—came,
darkness came over all the land till the ninth hour.
34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtáni?
which is translated, “My God my God, for what reason have you left me behind?” Ps 22.1
35 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look: He calls Elijah.”
36 One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar, putting it on a reed, gave Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him.”
37 Jesus, giving out a loud cry, expired.
38 The temple veil split in two, from top down.
39 The centurion standing across from Jesus, seeing how he expired,
said, “Truly this person is God’s son.”
Matthew 27.45-54 KWL
45 From the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—
darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 Around the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Elí Elí, lamáh azavettáni?
That is, “My God my God, why did you leave me behind?” Ps 22.1
47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said this: “This man calls Elijah.”
48 One runner quickly left them: Taking a sponge full of vinegar, putting it on a reed, he gave Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes, and will save him.”
50 Jesus, again calling out in a loud cry, gave up his spirit.
51 Look, the temple veil split from top down in two. The earth shook. The rocks split.
52 Tombs opened, and many bodies of “sleeping” saints were raised.
53 Coming out of the tombs after Jesus’s rising, they went into the holy city.
They were seen by many.
54 The centurion and those guarding Jesus with him, seeing the earthquake and what happened,
greatly feared, saying, “Truly this person is God’s son.”
Luke 23.44-48 KWL
44 Now it was about the sixth hour after sunrise, and it became dark over the whole land till the ninth hour.
45 The sun failed to appear. The temple veil split in the middle.
46 Jesus, calling in a loud voice, said, “Father, I set my spirit into your hands.”
Saying this, he expired.
47 The centurion, seeing what happened, glorified God, saying, “This person is indeed righteous.”
48 All the assembled crowd, at this sight, seeing what happened, went back beating their chests.
John 19.28-37 KWL
28 After this Jesus, knowing everything was now finished,
said to fulfill the scripture, “I thirst.”
29 A full jar of vinegar was sitting there.
So a sponge full of vinegar, with hyssop put on it, was brought to Jesus’s mouth.
30 When he tasted the vinegar, Jesus said, “It’s finished.”
He bent his head and handed over his spirit.
31 So the Judeans, since it’s Preparation Friday, lest bodies stay on the cross on Sabbath
(for this Sabbath was a great day), asked Pilate
so their legs might be broken, and they taken away.
32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man, and the other crucified with him.
33 Coming over to Jesus, they saw he’d died already. They didn’t break his legs.
34 Instead one soldier stabbed Jesus’s side with his spear.
Blood and water quickly came out.
35 The one who witnessed it testifies: It’s a true testimony.
This man knows he tells the truth, so you can also believe.
36 For this happened so the scripture might be fulfilled: “They won’t break his bones.”
37 Again, another scripture says, “They’ll see to whom they stabbed.”

I dealt with the vinegar elsewhere.

Aftershocks from his death.

Depending on the gospel, various things happen as a product of Jesus’s death.

Temple veil bisected. Mk 15.38 Mt 27.51 Lk 23.45
Earthquake, rocks split. Mt 27.51
Dead coming out of their graves. Mt 27.52-53
Centurion impressed. Mk 15.39 Mt 27.54 Lk 23.47
Soldiers didn’t break his legs, but speared him. Jn 19.31-37

The temple veil separated the Holy Place from the Holiest Place, the back room of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant would be kept if it were still around. Christians like to point out it was a mighty thick curtain, and therefore impossible for some random person to rip. True. But it was centuries old, and a strong earthquake might snap its curtain-rod and tear it top-to-bottom, just as the gospels describe. Regardless of how God did it, its point—all barriers between God and us have been removed through Jesus’s death—is entirely valid.

There are a few apocryphal New Testament gospels which claim after Jesus died, a few of the zombies revived saints testified to the Judean senate that they’d seen Jesus break into hell, step on the devil’s neck, and release a bunch of Old Testament saints. Entertaining stories, but way too many historical and scriptural inaccuracies for them to be anything but Christian fanfiction.

Apparently a centurion (if not his entire century) was supervising the crosses, and his response to how Jesus died was either “He sure seemed a good guy,” or “Holy crap, it’s the son of God!” We have no idea what this centurion’s religion was, and if he was your typical Greco-Roman pagan, he believed the gods had lots of sons. (The Roman senate had even declared Caesar Augustus one of them.) So his “son of God” comment might’ve meant the very same thing Luke describes him saying: Jesus seemed a good guy. Then again, who knows?—all sorts of unexpected people turn out to be listening to the Holy Spirit.

In John the aftermath is a lot less miraculous. The Pharisees couldn’t abide crucifixion victims striving to breathe on Sabbath; it counts as work. So they petitioned the Romans to “humanely” dispatch them, with enough time so they could stick ’em in a tomb, then go get baptized, before Sabbath began at nightfall. (On 3 April, that’d be 6PM.) Hence the Romans “humanely” broke their shins, making it impossible for them to hoist themselves up to breathe. Suffocation happened in minutes.

Since Jesus was already dead, a soldier poked him with a spear, and out came blood and water. I’ve heard Christians claim this proves Jesus died, not of suffocation, but a ruptured—make that “broken”—heart. It comes from Dr. William Stroud’s 1847 book, A Treatise on the Physical Cause of the Death of Christ. The idea of a broken heart sure sounds impressive, but more recent physicians prefer the idea of cardiovascular collapse: That’d most likely produce the clear pericardial fluid (“water”) the spear brought forth.

Though not as miraculous, it did fulfill two verses. One about not breaking the bones of a Passover lamb Ex 12.46, Nu 9.12 —that, or about the LORD protecting the bones of the righteous. Ps 34.20 That, and something the LORD said through Zechariah where they’ll “look at me”—speaking of himself—“whom they pierced; and mourn for him like one mourns for an only son.” Zc 12.10 Odd phrasing, but sure fits Jesus’s circumstances.

And, in the next station, Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus off his cross and put him in Joseph’s sepulcher—expecting, a year later, to go back in, gather his bones, and stick ’em in a casket. Not expecting, two days later, for Jesus to come out on his own. But to be fair, nobody else expected that either.

The crowd shouts for Barabbas.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 April

Mark 15.6-11, Matthew 27.15-21, Luke 23.17-25, John 18.39-40.

We actually have nothing in the Roman records about this custom the Roman governors had of releasing a prisoner every Passover. Doesn’t mean they didn’t do it; just means they kept it off the books. Which is understandable. Fleshly people tend to think of mercy and forgiveness as weakness, not strength; of compassion and generosity as something that other people will take advantage of, not benevolence. “If you give a mouse a cookie” and all that.

Anyway we have four historical records which indicate the Romans totally did free a prisoner every Passover: The gospels. Apparently Pontius Pilate had on hand an guy named Jesus bar Avvá, who’d been arrested during “the riot.” We don’t know which riot, and Christians like to speculate it was one of the more famous ones, but it had to have been fairly recent: Romans didn’t keep people in prison for long. They either held them for trial, flogged and released them, or crucified them.

Pontius wanted to free Jesus. But, probably ’cause Jesus is totally guilty of calling himself Messiah, Pontius didn’t wanna free him on his own authority. It might get back to Caesar Tiberius that he freed a self-proclaimed king. So he wanted an excuse, or to pass the buck to Herod. Likely that’s why he went with the whole free-a-convict-for-Passover thing: “Hey, why not Jesus?”

Well because they didn’t want Jesus; or at least that was the sentiment of the crowd the head priests brought in. Pontius gave them the option of Jesus the Nazarene, or Jesus bar Avvá. They went with bar-Avvá.

Mark 15.6-11 KWL
6 During the feast Pilatus would release one prisoner to them; whomever they asked.
7 There was one called bar-Avvá among the insurrectionists, imprisoned during the riot for committing murder.
8 Rising up, the crowd began to ask, as usual, for Pilatus to do for them.
9 In reply Pilatus told them, “You want me to free for you ‘the Judean king’?”
10 —knowing the head priests turned Jesus in out of envy.
11 The head priests incited the crowd to instead ask that bar-Avvá might be released to them.
Matthew 27.15-21 KWL
15 During the feast the prefect was accustomed to release one prisoner to them; whomever they wanted.
16 He then had a famous prisoner, called Jesus bar Avvá.
17 So Pilatus told the people who’d gathered for him, “Whom do you want me to release to you?—Jesus bar Avvá, or Jesus called Messiah?”
18 —knowing the head priests turned Jesus in out of envy.
19 (As he was sitting on the dais, his wife sent him a message:
“Keep away from that righteous man, for I saw many things in a dream about him.”)
20 The head priests and elders convinced the crowd to ask for bar-Avvá, and for Jesus’s destruction.
21 In reply the prefect told them, “Whom of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Bar-Avvá.”
Luke 23.17-25 KWL
17 [He had to release one prisoner to them during the feast.]
18 The Judeans shouted out together, “Take this man away and release bar-Avvá to us!”
19 Bar-Avvá was thrown into prison because of a certain riot in the city, and murder.
20 Pilatus addressed them again, wanting to release Jesus,
21 and the crowd shouted back, saying, “Crucify! Crucify him!”
22 Pilatus told them thrice, “Why? Did this man do evil?
Nothing worth death was done by him. So I will punish and release him.”
23 The crowd insisted with loud voices, calling for Jesus to be crucified, and their voices prevailed.
24 Pilatus sentenced Jesus to have done as the crowd requested.
25 He released the one they requested, who was thrown into prison for riot and murder,
and Jesus was surrendered to the people’s will.
John 18.39-40 KWL
39 It’s your custom that one prisoner might be released to you on Passover,
so do you want me to release to you ‘the Judean king’?”
40 So they shouted again, saying, “Not him, but bar-Avvá!” (Bar-Avvá was a looter.)

Who’s bar-Avvá?

The gospels don’t give us much on who bar-Avvá is, mainly because they don’t really care.

The word in our bibles is Βαραββᾶς/Varavvás (KJV “Barabbas”), which is a transliteration of the Aramaic בַּר אַבה/bar Avvá, “son of Avvá.” Yes, Avvá was a proper Hebrew name back then, but loads of Christians like to make much of the fact the word also means “father,” and therefore “bar-Avvá” literally means “son of a father.” And hey, isn’t Jesus’s dad our heavenly Father? What an interesting contrast! But nah, it’s not all that interesting.

In some copies of Matthew, bar-Avvá’s given name is Jesus. Mt 16.18 NIV True, “Jesus” isn’t in the earliest copies of Matthew, and the earliest reference is the Codex Vaticanus, written in the early 300s. The reason it was probably dropped from those early copies is because the New Testament copyists tried to avoid referring to anybody other than Christ Jesus as “Jesus.” But tradition preserved bar-Avvá’s given name—and again there’s that interesting contrast between the two Jesuses. One’s a murderer; the other offers to save everyone from death. Jn 3.16

Bar-Avvá was arrested during a recent riot, for murder Mk 15.7 and looting. Jn 18.40 He was imprisoned among the insurrectionists, and that’s led various people to jump to the conclusion he was an insurrectionist; possibly one of the nativists who called themselves “Canaanites,” Mk 3.18, Mt 10.4 KJV or in Greek ζηλωτής/zilotís, “Zealots,” Lk 6.15, Ac 1.13 who wanted the Romans gone, and were willing to kill to get it. Bar-Avvá did commit murder after all; maybe he murdered a Roman.

But likely not. Pontius wouldn’t have suggested his name, or even considered him a possibility, if bar-Avvá murdered a Roman. He’d have been crucified the same day. More likely bar-Avvá took advantage of a riot and confusion to murder someone, and probably someone prominent, which is why he was now famous. Or maybe he was already prominent—a celebrity’s kid, or otherwise had prominent connections, which might explain why the Romans hadn’t yet crucified him.

Of course the Jesus movies like to depict him as a hardened criminal, a highwayman and bandit, a tough guy who was thrilled the crowd was shouting for him instead of that pacifist Nazarene sissy. Or maybe he took a look at Jesus and was magically struck with conviction—“why, this man is clearly innocent, even though I’ve never met him before and someone beat the tar out of him and all my cultural biases should be telling me the universe is punishing him”—or however the screenwriters like to play with the character. Me, I’m more interested in historical accuracy. Human nature dictates bar-Avvá really didn’t wanna get crucified, and didn’t care who took his place so long that he got to live. Beyond this story, we never hear of him again.

Jesus’s suffering.

Now of course Jesus didn’t wanna get crucified either. But he had accepted his coming death as an inevitability. The chance he might be pardoned, only existed in Pontius’s mind—and in the worries of the senators who wanted Jesus dead. Didn’t exist in Jesus’s. So really all this free-a-convict-for-Passover thingy did was delay the inevitable.

But you know Satan would’ve used it as a temptation: “Look, there’s a chance you might get freed! You won’t have to go through crucifixion! You’ll only get off with a flogging; shouldn’t that be enough?” Assuming the devil understood Jesus was trying to achieve atonement though his death; I don’t know what it knew or didn’t know, but it’s a good bet the devil wanted to frustrate anything Jesus was up to, or at least prolong the misery. If Jesus was determined to die, may as well dangle the possibility he might not.

And no, it’s not fun to hear a crowd reject you in favor of a really undeserving, truly bad guy. No matter the situation.

The crowd shouts for crucifixion.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 April

Mark 15.8-14, Matthew 27.20-23, Luke 23.18-25, John 18.38-40.

When Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect quickly realized Jesus was no insurrectionist. Jesus’s claim of being Judea’s king was no political threat to the Roman senate and emperor. Case dismissed.

Except it wasn’t, because the Judean senators had somehow got a crowd together which was calling for Jesus’s death. And the easiest way to get Romans in a murdery mood is to disturb their peace. That’s the one thing Romans valued most: Social stability. Not actual peace, like Jesus gives us; just the appearance of peace, where nobody grumbles too loud, would do for them. And if they didn’t get it, they’d crucify everybody till they did.

The head priests knew this, so of course they got a crowd together, and made sure they were good and noisy.

Mark 15.8-14 KWL
8 Rising up, the crowd began to ask, as usual, for Pilatus to do for them.
9 In reply Pilatus told them, “You want me to free for you ‘the Judean king’?”
10 —knowing the head priests turned Jesus in out of spite.
11 The head priests incited the crowd to instead ask that bar-Avvá might be released to them.
12 In reply Pilatus again told them, “So what ought I do with the one called ‘the Judean king’?
13 The crowd shouted again, “Crucify him.”
14 Pilatus told them, “Why? Did he do evil?” But they shouted “Crucify him” all the more.
Matthew 27.20-23 KWL
20 The head priests and elders convinced the crowd to ask for bar-Avvá, and for Jesus’s destruction.
21 In reply the prefect told them, “Whom of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Bar-Avvá.”
22 Pilatus told them, “So what will I do with Jesus called Messiah?” All said, “Crucify.”
23 Pilatus said, “Why? Did he do evil?” But they shouted “Crucify!” all the more.
Luke 23.18-25 KWL
18 The Judeans shouted out together, “Take this man away and release bar-Avvá to us!”
19 Bar-Avvá was thrown into prison because of a certain riot in the city, and murder.
20 Pilatus addressed them again, wanting to release Jesus,
21 and the crowd shouted back, saying, “Crucify! Crucify him!”
22 Pilatus told them thrice, “Why? Did this man do evil?
Nothing worth death was done by him. So I will punish and release him.”
23 The crowd insisted with loud voices, calling for Jesus to be crucified, and their voices prevailed.
24 Pilatus sentenced Jesus to have done as the crowd requested.
25 He released the one they requested, who was thrown into prison for riot and murder,
and Jesus was surrendered to the people’s will.
John 18.38-40 KWL
38 Pilatus told Jesus, “What’s ‘truth’?”
This said, he went out again to the Judeans and told them, “I find nothing in him of cause.
39 It’s your custom that one prisoner might be released to you on Passover,
so do you want me to release to you ‘the Judean king’?”
40 So they shouted again, saying, “Not him, but bar-Avvá!” (Bar-Avvá was a looter.)
41 So then Pilatus took Jesus and flogged him.

More about bar-Avvá another time.

The crowd’s constitution.

Preachers are mighty fond of claiming the crowd which asked for bar-Avvá to be freed, and for Jesus to be crucified, was the very same crowd which hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday. We have no evidence of that whatsoever, but these preachers love the idea of the crowd turning on Jesus; praising him one day, rejecting him the next, much like the students who rejected him after he told them to eat him. Denouncing hypocrites is fun, so this old claim manages to worm its way into every Holy Week message. But it’s likely rubbish.

Ancient Jerusalem was a big city. Ordinarily 40,000 people lived there, which means you could put together a dozen massive Jesus-denying crowds with entirely different people in ’em, same as such a population nowadays can easily host a dozen Jesus-affirming churches. But y’might remember Passover was going on, which every adult male Israelite was commanded to attend. Ex 23.17 During the Jewish War, which started during one of the mandatory festivals, Josephus stated the city physically held more than 125,000 people. Granted some people might’ve been in both crowds, but certainly not all. And if the head priests gathered this crowd, these definitely wouldn’t be Jesus fans.

Also bear in mind the Romans’ fort, Antonia, couldn’t hold a crowd of thousands. The temple, which Antonia overlooked, could; but no matter how much the head priests wanted Jesus dead, it’s extremely unlikely they’d have used the temple courts to host a crowd shouting “Crucify him!” So the size of this crowd wasn’t as vast as the Jesus movies make it look; we’re only talking 300 people at the very most. Even without shouting they’d make a lot of noise, but they only needed to be just noisy enough to sway Pontius. Which they did.

The other consideration is this was Friday, 3 April 33, the day before Passover and the day before Sabbath, and therefore a day you were super busy getting ready. You had to get your lamb killed and skinned and roasted; you had to go to temple for your ritual sacrifices (and get in line, ’cause there were tons of other Israelite families with Passover sacrifices, but only so many priests, and just the one altar); and if you had to go to temple it meant you had to get ritually clean the day before, and stay ritually clean till you got to temple, and couldn’t risk becoming ritually unclean by gathering in a crowded Roman fortress where there’d be a bunch of uncircumcised pork-eating soldiers who touched dead things and blood and didn’t wash their hands. So the crowd had to consist of people who finished their temple rituals first thing in the morning… and who wouldn’t mind getting ritually unclean for a little while, and do the head priests a favor.

Likewise people who didn’t have a problem getting one of their fellow Israelites crucified by the Romans. Who didn’t really have a problem with the Roman occupation period; who might’ve even profited off it. Who didn’t just reject the idea of Jesus as Messiah, but may not have even believed any Messiah was coming, like Sadducees. And since the head priests were Sadducees themselves, maybe they handpicked a crowd of fellow Sadducees. The gospels don’t say… but if the entire crowd would Sadducee, they absolutely wouldn’t have among the crowd cheering Jesus at Palm Sunday, ’cause shouting Hosanna to an incoming Messiah is way more of a Pharisee thing.

Jesus represents a total overhaul of the status quo. (Including our own.) If the crowd had more to lose by such changes, they’d shout all the more for Jesus’s destruction. And so it appears they did.

Jesus’s suffering.

In these stations of the cross articles we’re looking particularly at how Jesus suffered. And of course he suffered in hearing the crowds call for his death. He didn’t wanna die. Definitely didn’t wanna be crucified. But this was the sort of death he knew was coming; it was part of the Father’s plan, and the Father’s plan is his plan too.

And he came to save this crowd too. He wants everybody to be saved, 1Ti 2.4 even the ones who wanted him dead, even the people today who want him and Christianity gone, and would crucify him again if they could get their hands on him. It’s a pity they resisted his grace; it’s a pity people still resist it. It just goes to demonstrate how messed up humanity is. Obviously we need a savior—who isn’t gonna let us, killing him, stop him from saving us regardless.