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30 May 2019

Ascension: When Jesus got raptured.

Forty days after Easter, Jesus left. For now.

On Thursday, 15 May 33 (if we take Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 literally, and not as an estimate) this happened.

Acts 1.6-9 KWL
6 So when they came together, the apostles questioned Jesus:
“Master, is it at this time you’re restoring the Kingdom of Israel?”
7 Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.
8 But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.
You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”
9 Saying this as they watched him, Jesus was raptured.
A cloud concealed him from their eyes.

Christians call this Jesus’s ascension, and celebrate it 40 days after Easter—and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday. ’Cause it’s when Jesus went up, or ascended, into heaven, to stand in service or sit in judgment, at the Father’s right. Ac 2.33, 7.55-56

Various people who don’t believe Christians are getting raptured when Jesus returns love to point out the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible, but that’s only because their favorite translations don’t use it. Rapture simply means “lifted up,” and since ἐπήρθη/epírthi (KJV “he was taken up”) means the very same thing, there’s no reason to translate it otherwise. Jesus got raptured, and we’re getting raptured to join his forces when he returns.

’Cause what goes up must come down.

29 May 2019

Jesus repeats a miracle: Feeding 4,000.

Mark 8.1-9 • Matthew 15.32-39.

So you know the bible’s full of miracles. They’re there not just so we have feel-good Sunday school stories, nor so we can read about what God did in the past and think, “Bible times were cool; how come God doesn’t do such things anymore?” He does do such things. Still! If you’ve never seen it, it means your church has done a lousy job of putting you in the path of miracles. Or it’s full of unbelievers. Either way, not good.

The miracles aren’t just there to give us happy thoughts. They show us what God has done—and therefore can still do. He hasn’t lost power; he hasn’t abandoned us like cessationists insist. He’s ready when we’re willing.

And when a certain miracle happens more than once in the bible, it means God’s particularly willing to repeat that one. Because he already has repeated that one. Like when Jesus repeated feeding a huge crowd with a small amount of food.

Mark 8.1-9 KWL
1 In those days, with again many people who had nothing to eat,
Jesus, summoning his students, told them,
2 “I feel bad for the crowd; they’ve been with me three days and have nothing to eat.
3 When I send home those who’ve been fasting, they’ll collapse on the road:
Some of them have come from far away.”
4 Jesus’s students replied, “How will we get buns to feed them here, in the wilderness?”
5 Jesus asked them, “How many buns do you have?” They said, “Seven.”
6 Jesus commanded the crowd to sit on the ground, and took the seven buns.
Giving thanks, he broke and gave the buns to his students so they could distribute them.
They distributed them to the crowd. 7 They also had a few sardines;
blessing them, Jesus said to distribute them too.
8 They ate and were full, and they picked up abundant fragments—seven baskets.
9 There were maybe 4,000 people. Jesus released them.
Matthew 15.32-39 KWL
32 Summoning his students, Jesus said, “I feel bad for the crowd;
they’ve been with me three days and have nothing to eat.
I don’t want to send home those who’ve been fasting, lest they collapse on the road.”
33 Jesus’s students told him, “How will we, in the wilderness, get so many buns to feed so great a crowd?”
34 Jesus told them, “How many buns do you have?” They said, “Seven and a few sardines.”
35 Commanding the crowd to sit on the ground, 36 Jesus took the buns and sardines;
blessing them, he broke and gave them to his students, and the students to the crowd.
37 They all ate and were full, and they picked up abundant fragments—seven full baskets.
38 Those who ate were 4,000 men, not counting women and children.
39 Jesus released the crowd, entered the boat, and went to the Magadan border.

Certain scholars speculate this isn’t really a second miracle of feeding thousands: It’s just another telling of feeding the 5,000, but some of the details got mixed up. The reason they guess this is because Jesus’s students somehow seem to have forgot the previous miracle. Didja notice?—Jesus talks about how he’s got a huge crowd here and wants to feed them, and the students ask him how they’re gonna do that. Did they forget they already did that? Did they forget how the bread and fish multiplied in their very own hands?

But let’s be fair: Every Christian seems to have forgotten Jesus can empower his followers to miraculously feed large masses of people. ’Cause we don’t do this anymore either.

28 May 2019

Jesus makes some funny hand motions.

Mark 7.31-37 • Matthew 15.29-31.

After Jesus cured the Syrian Greek woman’s daughter, Matthew mentions he impressively cured a bunch of physical disabilities.

Matthew 15.29-31 KWL
29 Leaving there, Jesus went along the Galilean lake, went up a hill, and sat there.
30 A crowd of many came to Jesus, having among them
the maimed, the mute, the blind, the disabled, and many other unwell people.
They deposited them at Jesus’s feet, and he treated them—
31 so the crowd was amazed to see the mute speaking,
the maimed made whole, the disabled walking, the blind seeing.
They glorified Israel’s God.

Y’see, quacks and witch doctors tend to claim their expertise is in curing people of the things we can’t visibly see. If you have an illness, any type of cancer but skin cancer, stomach upset, pain, or anything where they could claim to cure you—and nobody can actually see they cured nothing—they’d claim this was their area of expertise, treat you, and charge you. But if you go to them with your hand mangled in a cart accident… well, they got nothing. They barely knew how to set broken bones.

Whereas Jesus can cure everything. And charges nothing.

So that’s Matthew. But Mark zooms in on one specific case of curing a deafmute, and here’s that story.

Mark 7.31-37 KWL
31 Jesus left the Tyrian border again, traveled through Sidon,
then to the Galilean lake on the Dekapolitan border.
32 The people brought Jesus a deafmute—well, with a speech impediment—
and asked him for help, so he might put his hand on him.
33 Taking him away from the crowd by himself, Jesus put his fingers in his own ears,
spat, touched his own tongue, 34 and groaned while looking into the heavens.
Jesus told him, “הפתח!” (happatákh, i.e. “Open up!”)
35 His hearing opened up, and the bond on his mouth quickly broke; he spoke clearly.
36 Jesus commanded him to tell no one—and many similar commands.
But he proclaimed Jesus all the more.
37 People were completely astounded, saying, “He does everything well!
He makes deafmutes hear, and the speechless speak!”

I’ll briefly mention the geography in verse 31: Sidon is north of Tyre, and the Dekapolis is south; Jesus wasn’t traveling in a straight line. It’s like saying he went from San Francisco to San Jose through Portland. He was traveling all over, preaching his gospel in gentile provinces.

He ended up in the Dekapolis, a province of 10 Syrian Greek communities in northern Israel, east of the lake. You remember he’d been there before: He took his students there for a break, and wound up throwing a legion of demons out of a guy. At the time, he freaked out the locals so bad they wanted him gone. Now they actively sought him out, ’cause word was out about what he could do.

27 May 2019

When Jesus acted racist.

Mark 7.24-30 • Matthew 15.21-28.

Title get your attention? Well this story gets a lot of people’s attention—when they’re not skipping it, or trying to explain away what Jesus did, ’cause it makes ’em uncomfortable. ’Cause he absolutely acted racist.

Lemme state this first, so you catch its full impact when you read the text: Dogs are pets in our culture, but not at all in Jesus’s. They were considered vermin. Scavenger animals, like raccoons, opossums, wolves, wildcats, rats. Wild, untrustworthy, sometimes dangerous. Pack animals which hassled livestock and endangered children. And would eat anything—dead things, feces, their own vomit. Pr 26.11 This activity isn’t just ritually unclean; it’s downright nasty. So Jews considered dogs untouchable. Pharisees shunned ’em like we’d shun rats and cockroaches.

This is why whenever we see the words for “dog” in the bible—every single time!—they’re a synonym for the filthiest of animals. It’s why John wrote this in Revelation:

Revelation 22.15 KWL
Outside New Jerusalem: Dogs. Drug fiends. Sex fiends. Murderers. Idolaters.
And everyone who loves and spreads fakery.

Like all apocalypses it’s not meant to be literal, but to make the point there’s nothing unclean in New Jerusalem. Period. Dogs were considered nasty, so they wouldn’t get in. (Some claim “dogs” is a euphemism for gays, but that’s a serious misinterpretation.)

This mindset about dogs is what makes Jesus’s first statement in this story, really offensive.

Mark 7.24-27 KWL
24 From there, Jesus got up to leave for the Tyrian/Sidonian border.
When he entered a house there, no one should know him. But he couldn’t hide.
25 Instead a woman, quickly hearing of Jesus, fell at his feet as she came to him:
Her daughter had an unclean spirit.
26 The woman was Greek; her race was Syrian and Phoenician.
She begged Jesus so he might throw out the demon from her daughter.
27 Jesus told her, “First, allow the children to eat!
It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Matthew 15.21-26 KWL
21 Jesus came out of there. He went to a part of Tyre and Sidon.
22 Look, a Canaanite woman from that coast, coming to him, called out,
saying “Have mercy on me sir—son of David! My daughter is badly demonized.”
23 Jesus didn’t say a word to her. His students were asking him questions.
They began to say, “Make her go away; she’s making noise in the back.”
24 In reply Jesus said, “I’m not sent to any but the lost sheep of Israel’s house.”
25 She fell at his feet as she came to him, saying, “Sir, help me!”
26 In reply Jesus said, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

17 May 2019

Abortion and conservative Christians.

May as well dive headfirst into the United States’ biggest controversy of the past 40 years.

Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.

Infanticide does. Strangling or smothering the babies after birth, Ex 1.16 or if you really wanna terrorize people, as the Egyptians did, toss ’em in the Nile. Ex 1.22 The scriptures don’t specifically condemn it as murder, but neither do they treat it as if it’s not murder. And most Americans agree… although not all humans have. In some cultures—partly justified by high infant mortality rates—infant death is kinda okay, and causing infant death is also kinda okay. It’s famously known in ancient Rome, if a patriarch didn’t want a baby, he could order it be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure. Although a 1988 archeological discovery in Askelon, Israel, revealed a number of Romans were okay with just drowning ’em in the local bathhouse.

Miscarriage also comes up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, and a miscarriage would result. Sometimes the mother would die too, but them’s the risks. Since people didn’t care for these risks, what they usually went with was infanticide.

Now there is a command in the Law which indicates God doesn‘t approve of triggering a miscarriage:

Exodus 21.22-25 KWL
22 When people fight, and one strikes a pregnant woman so her children come out:
If there’s no harm, still: Penalize, penalize.
Whatever the woman’s patriarch charges him, he must pay, as confirmed by judges.
23 If there’s harm, he must pay soul for soul,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, cut for cut, bruise for bruise.

So if the fetus came out dead, the guy who punched the mother could merit a soul-for-soul penalty. Unless her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law; whatever patriarch had the care of her—or judge had mercy, the perpetrator would be executed. Usually by her closest male relative, who was instructed to take vengeance in such cases. Nu 35.19

There are those who interpret this passage very differently. They presume verse 23 has nothing to do with verse 22; that it has to do with other acts of violence and their appropriate penalties. So killing a fetus didn’t merit anything more than a fine, but killing the woman—even if she’s a slave Ex 21.20 —merits the death penalty. Obviously they’re not reading this passage in context, and you can judge whether it’s because they really don’t like the context.

Otherwise, as I said, the bible is mum on the subject of abortion.

Not that people don’t try to read abortion into all sorts of verses—and again, take the scriptures out of context. Hey, whatever supports their cause. It’s not about what God has to say on the issue; it’s about them being right, and insisting God must be on their side.