Day 303: Luke 17-18; The Cost of Discipleship

As we come to the Word of God today, I would like you to take a moment to reread this section from yesterday’s reading in Luke 14:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

In the midst of all the healing and teaching that is taking place, Jesus takes time to talk about what it means to follow Him.  The passage we just read from yesterday, Luke 14:25-33, we see Jesus is addressing the crowds that come to hear Him teach.  Word has spread around the countryside that Jesus was a great speaker and healed people.  Everyone was flocking to hear and see Him; much like some of the celebrity pastors and speakers that we have in our own Christian faith (but without the God being man factor).  Today we see Him address a rich man, an individual who seems to have all the right motivations and wants to sign on to this discipleship thing:

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”  But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”  And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Here Jesus is addressing much the same thing.  First we had a whole lot of people who were “following” Jesus, wanting to hear His speak and be inspired by His teaching.  Now we have a wealthy young man who has says that He has lived a good life, keeping to all of the laws that were laid out for the people of Israel.  In both cases, Jesus lays out what it means to truly follow Him and, at least in the case of the rich young rule, that cost seems a bit too high for him.

So what is the cost of discipleship?  Well, too often we talk about how Jesus tells the man that he has to sell everything and give it all away in order to follow him.  While I don’t think that this is a call for us to live without a house, job or means of providing for ourselves, for indeed these things are a gift of God as His way of providing for our needs, Jesus is talking about the priority that these things need to take in our lives for us to be followers of Him.  At other times Jesus has said that someone “cannot serve two masters,” yet another example of priority and orientation in our lives.  What Jesus is truly saying here is that the cost of discipleship is our very lives.

What metaphor does Jesus use to talk about discipleship in Luke 14?  The cross.  We need to take up our cross.  Later on in the New Testament Paul picks up this idea talking about how we need to die to ourselves (the desires of our flesh) so that we may rise again in Christ.  We see this theme come up in baptism, salvation, and the Christian life over and over again in Scripture.  The cost of discipleship is our lives.  Not physically giving up our lives, but as Paul writes in Romans 12,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Eugene Peterson describes discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.”  I think this is a very apt description that goes well with what Jesus has to say here.  In our current cultural context, with the mega church movement in full swing, we see people flocking to these large churches to hear really good speakers.  Now, I believe that good ministry takes place in churches like Mars Hill and Willow Creek just as they do in many small churches.  I also think bad ministry takes place in these places (as it does in smaller churches too).  People come to hear the newest, the latest and greatest… or perhaps the go because they have always gone and just need to check their Sunday worship of their “spiritual checklist.”  This can happen in either church.  The problem and the fact of the matter however, is that this is not the discipleship that He had described here.  Going in and out of Sunday morning worship is not what Christ has called us to, it is not the whole of our Spiritual lives.  If it is… we aren’t doing it right.  We are called to something greater, to take up our cross, to a long obedience in the same direction… and to help bring others along with us as well!



Day 302: Luke 14-16; The Lost are Found

As we read today we continue to see Jesus teaching in parables to the people that are around Him.  Today’s reading contains probably one of the most famous parables of all time, the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  However, before we talk about that particular parable, we need to pay attention to the context in which that particular passage is found.  Jesus, as He continues His journey and gets close and closer to Jerusalem, is continually responding to questions from the religious leaders and the pharisees about different elements of the law, ever challenging their way of life and in many cases rebuking them to the point of speechlessness over what they thought was the “right way” to life vs. what God was calling the people to do.  We have also seen many times throughout the Gospels, especially in Matthew, that Jesus says that He is called to the lost sheep of Israel and that He was called as a physician to the sick, not to take care of the healthy.

This, in my opinion, kind of turns on its head the religious practices of the time and also some of the Church’s religious practices of today as well.  Most specifically I see this in the three parables that comprise Luke chapter 15.  As I am thinking about this I am worried that I am going to go on a rant again, which is something I would like to stay away from.  That being said, with all the talk of the Church hemorrhaging people and being in decline, I wonder if these parables shouldn’t speak, at least in some way, into our current situation.  What do I mean by this?  Well…

Jesus tells a parable of the lost sheep.  A shepherd that is out with his flock notices that there is one missing.  Rather than saying, “that’s alright, I still have the 99 sheep so I’m still good,” he leaves the sheep out in the open country and goes out looking for the one lost sheep.  Mind you, the idea of the open country is that of a dangerous area where the shepherd is both leading and defending the sheep.  Chances are the sheep would follow him in his search, because that is what sheep do, but the point is that the shepherd is more preoccupied with looking for the lost sheep than caring for the other 99 sheep.

In the same way, Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin.  Rather than being okay with the nine coins that she does have, this lady literally seems to turn her house upside down looking for that coin.  I think that I am only this thorough in looking for something if I lost my wallet, keys, or phone.  But the nine she has is just not enough, and the 99 sheep are just not enough.  Both of these characters are saying that is one gets away, it is 100% worth it to go after them and find them back.  I wonder what would happen if we went after our young people, those that are leaving the church, to try and find them back.  First of all, I suppose, we would need to be willing to commit to looking for them and to discipling them (something we’ll talk about more tomorrow), but I actually wonder if this is something that we would consider a worthwhile endeavor in the church today.  Or are we just okay with the 99 that we still have?

Now, Jesus goes on to tell the story of the prodigal son.  This man takes everything that he can from his father and his family and goes off without regard to their needs, love, care, or life.  He utterly scorns them with his request and completely abandons them.  We might not think this so bad if he left and invested his money and made a successful life for himself (being that we too believe heavily in the American dream and want to see our children do that for themselves), but He doesn’t.  Everything that was given to him is squandered, wasted on the trappings of a seducing culture.  The interesting thing in this story, in my opinion, is that this young man realizes the error of his ways and understands what he needs to do.  In an act of sheer humility, being as humbled now as he was scornful earlier, he returns to his father to ask to be a servant, just so that he can eat.  What does the son’s father do?  Does he hesitantly welcome him back, offering him a trial period before he can become a “son” again?  Does he turn him away because of his actions, refusing to forgive?  NO!  Absolutely not!  He pulls up his robe and goes running out to meet him (a very dishonoring action for a man of wealth in those days).  The Father throws his arms around the lost son, weeps for joy at his return and even has a huge celebration for the return of the son despite his other son’s protest!

So… what is the real question here?  I hate to boil this down to some sort of pithy moral statement because I think that these parables present a HUGE challenge for the Church today.  So many churches are losing people left and right.  More churches are closing in the country than ever before.  But I wonder, are we going out to find those lost sheep?  Are we pursuing our children, friends, neighbors and seem to be falling away from their faith?  Are we really rejoicing when they are found?  What about when a prodigal child returns home?  Do we run out to meet them with arms open despite the lifestyle that they may have been or are possible still involved in/recovering from (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, homosexuality, etc.)?  Or do we treat them more like the father’s son, questioning why it is that we have allowed them back within our walls?

These are tough questions… questions that churches need to think deeply about… Jesus is pretty clear on what the answers are.  I think the question for us is whether we are in line with those answers… or not…



Day 301: Luke 12-13; Teachings and Parables

All throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him teaching in both lessons from the Scriptures, much of which comes from the Law.  Our reading today starts off with Jesus directly addressing the teaching of the pharisees.  They too spend a great deal of time teaching on the Scriptures and the Law.  We’ve actually spent some time talking about that teaching too, about all of the laws that the religious leaders of that day had put in place over the course of a couple hundred years to put a hedge around the true law.  Rather than working to understand the true meaning of the Law, to hear the words of Deuteronomy 6 which say very specifically that all of God’s direction is about loving God with all that we are.  Yet, instead of looking to this and learning from the mistakes that sent them into exile, the religious leaders of Israel made more laws to protect the law.  If you weren’t supposed to do work on the Sabbath, they made sure that you didn’t even potentially come close to doing work on the Sabbath by saying that you weren’t even allowed to wash yourself or pick something up off the ground.

Jesus warns His disciples here to beware of the “leaven” of the pharisees because their teaching is hypocrisy.  The Law was meant to guide the people, God’s way of showing His people how they were to live in a way that would be both life giving and God glorifying.  Yet the pharisees had taken it and turned it into a chain, binding the people into the lifestyle that they demanded rather than helping them to love God more fully.  More than that, the religious leaders lived lives of false piety, making it seem as though they were living perfect lives while everyone else was struggling.  In some ways I would liken them to some of the false churches that are out there today, those that say you’ll be more blessed based on how much you give.  The teaching of the prosperity gospel by people like Joel Osteen doesn’t focus on loving God and living into the redemption that we have in Jesus Christ, but on how much you give… things that you can do to earn your own salvation… something we know to be not possible.  It is only in Jesus Christ that we find our salvation.

We also see Jesus teaching through the use of parables.  It is interesting that, when asked about why He speaks in parables, Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah 6, when the Lord calls Isaiah to ministry.  What Jesus is doing for us, as He teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven and even the life of faith is to bring it into language and imagery that the people He is interacting with can understand.  The church that I worship at, Overisel Reformed Church, is a rural church that is in the middle of a farming community.  It would make little sense for us to talk about urban street life.  The reverse is true for urban churches.  Farming metaphors probably wouldn’t make much sense there.  The Kingdom of God is something that is completely foreign to us, and living the faithful life was something that wasn’t taught to the people in Jesus’ time… at least not in the way that it should have been.  So what does Jesus do?  He condescends to the level of the people, just has He condescended from the throne of Heaven to become a human.  This is a very real sense of divinity being translated to humanity in a way that we can understand.  God continues to do this as well, in the continuing revelation of Himself to us through His Word as well.



Day 300: Luke 10-11; Learning to Pray

Today’s reading encompasses a great deal parables, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.  I am planning on covering some of that tomorrow.  Our reading today also touches on the Lord’s prayer, or at least Luke’s version of it.  Prayer is one of the most important parts of the Christian life, and therefore I think that our Lord’s teaching on prayer should be mentioned sometime in this blog.  Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is somewhat shorter than it’s Matthew counterpart though, so we will be drawing from both sections.

Both Matthew and Luke’s prayer begin with praise and acknowledgement of God’s holiness.  “Father, hallowed (or holy) is Your name.”  As we enter into prayer, I think that this is a good and appropriate way to orientate ourselves to the one we are praying to.  As creatures of the creator, redeemed sinners coming before a gracious and holy God, it is important for us to remember our true place in the world.  Though God invites us to pray and encourages us to bring our needs before Him, God is still God and we need to remember and acknowledge this as we enter into His presence.

The next words that both Luke and Matthew record are that of asking God to bring His Kingdom.  We pray “Your Kingdom come…” and related to this in Matthew is “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  While talk of the Kingdom of God differs in the idea of what this means, the reference to God’s work on earth throughout history towards the restoration of creation is certainly at or near the center.  Ultimately, this is the will of God too, to bring all of creation back to its original state, the perfection in which it was created.  God has been working for this throughout history, culminating in Jesus Christ coming which hailed the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  Right now we are living in the time in between that and when we will see it in its fullness, the already but not yet period where we are waiting for God to bring all this to an end and reconcile all things to Himself.

It is at this point, when we have oriented ourselves before God and prayed for His will in the world that we then turn to our own needs.  We ask God for “our daily bread” knowing and trusting that God is going to give us all that we need for life.  Jesus talks about through throughout His ministry and teaching, telling us not to worry and showing us how God will provide as He always does.  I think what is important here, not that God’s provision isn’t important or anything because it most definitely is, would be the order in which these things come in the prayer.  Too often we come before God and just rattle off a list of things that we need as if God was some sort of a cosmic vending machine.  Jesus is showing us the appropriate way in which we should be praying to God, the appropriate orientation and therefore the appropriate order.

Jesus moves on from there to asking the Lord for forgiveness.  Again, I think that this is an appropriate place for this, and not just because this is where Jesus put it.  Coming from the Reformed Tradition, and being quite dutch in my heritage, I know what it is like to feel bad about the things that I have done or those things that I failed to do.  So very often we focus in on the fact that we are sinners and need forgiveness.  We are sinners…  we are sinners… Lord have mercy… forgive us… Apart from the things that we need, I would say that this section is the place at which we find ourselves praying so very often.  Yet we don’t need to be stuck in “guilt mode prayer.”  We are not people that have no hope, we live in the reality that grace has already been extended to us!  Jesus has died!  We have been forgiven!  Yes, we sin… but we are FORGIVEN!  This is our current reality and we need to live into it rather than just focusing in on our sins.

Finally we come to the last part of this prayer.  This can probably be the most confusing part of it as well.  Why would we ask God not to lead us into temptation?  God doesn’t tempt.  He doesn’t even make bad things happen to us.  So why do we say this?  I think a more contemporary translation that we use at seminary maybe makes a bit more sense here: “Save Us from the time of Trial.”  Perhaps it just seems to fit more with the phrase in Matthew “deliver us from evil (or the evil one).”  I think it makes more sense with what we know about God as well.  God is not the source of evil, but He does allow us to go through difficult times.  Jesus knew this as He was teaching his Disciples this prayer.  He too would face evil in its greatest assault.  Though Jesus did not want to go through this time, and even prayed that God would take the cup from Him (save us from the time of trial?), yet He resigned to what the will of God the Father was and willingly went through it (deliver us from evil?).  I think that these fit seamlessly together here and round out the Lord’s prayer quite well.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the glory forever, Amen.



Day 299: Luke 8-9; The Sent Community

I feel like today I need to post an article that I wrote for my church’s monthly news letter publication for November (you’ll be seeing it before they do).  Over the course of this year we have been talking about the many different aspects of our corporate worship on Sunday mornings.  Everything from Gathering to sermon, and now to the sending time has been covered.  Today, in our reading, we encounter the text of Jesus sending out the disciples… and tomorrow when we read the narrative of Jesus sending out the 72… and it spurs in me the thoughts about the Church’s identity as a “sent community.”  There is much more in today’s reading besides this, I understand, and we have and will talk about some of these different things, but today I feel as though we need to remember “sent” identity.

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We have spent the past 10 months discussing some of the reasons behind how we “do” worship on a given Sunday morning.  Conversations like this are very good in helping us to better understand what we do and how we worship.  One page each month hardly does this subject justice in my opinion, but if this writing has even prompted one conversation or a deeper inspection of worship in one’s own, I would say that it is worth it.  This is the last month of this series of writings, and we have come to what I think is the most important part of the worship service (with the exception of the Table, which we talked about last week), the time of being sent out.  Indeed this is the time in which the community that has gathered from to worship God accepts once again its identity as disciples in Christ and is sent out to be the Body of Christ in the world today.  It is the point at which we accept and assume our identity as Christians and take it beyond the walls of the Church where we are called to serve and to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”

Lately, it seems, that Christian church in North America has kind of gotten its identity a little mixed up.  As we have done over this past year, we put a lot of effort into talking about our Sunday morning worship services.  In fact, we have put more than our fair share of effort into talking about our corporate worship services.  We have had church spits about them, tried to blend them and style them, add things to them, and even use different cultural features to make them more attractive.  Churches across North America have placed an inordinate amount of effort into making themselves and their Corporate worship more attractive to the “un-churched.”  And what has been the result of this?  We have turned the focus of church and worship away from God and towards people creating a consumer mindset in which people have become more concerned with what they are getting out of it and whether it appeals to them.  More than this, as a church we have made it ok for people to jump from church to church based not on the message of that they are hearing or the way that they are being equipped, but based solely on their preference of music or style.  In short, we have made corporate worship about us, not God.

So in light of that, what is the identity that we are called to as the people of God?  It is that of the “sent community.”  I know that there are many that would push back about this being the church’s primary identity when we make it a point so often to say that we identity is in Christ.  This is true.  But to say that our primary identity as the Church is to be “sent out” is not in contrast with our identity in Christ, it is actually a response to it.  Jesus didn’t come into the world, immediately set up a Church, and then try to make it cool so people would come through the door.  No, Jesus was out on the streets of the cities, on the roads of the countryside, and meeting people in their homes and meeting places.  It was in those places that He was teaching and it was in those places that he did all his miracles.  From wedding celebrations to graveside mourning, Jesus was there demonstrating the love of God in all that he did and said.

Jesus modeled this with His disciples as well.  In each of the Gospels there are multiple references to Jesus sending them out, instructing them about being in the world, and even praying to God the Father for their protection as they are out in the world.  The great commission which we, like many other churches, have modeled our mission statement after actually tells us what we need to do:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This is the Biblical model for the church.  It doesn’t say “go if you feel called” or “put money in the plate for the missionaries” (though that does have its place too).  Jesus says to His followers, “GO!”  We don’t need theological training… we don’t need eloquent speeches… we don’t even need to do all the talking… Jesus’ command to so many of the people that He healed was “go and tell people what you have seen and heard.”

Friends we are a sent community.  When the blessing is given, we are sent out empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel wherever we go.  Sunday mornings should not be the majority of our Christian life.  We gather together to worship, to hear the Word of God, and to be empowered and equipped to be sent forth into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.



Day 298: Luke 6-7; Jesus' Teachings in Luke

Jesus’ teachings in today’s readings are kind of like a mini Sermon on the Mount.  Unlike the book of Matthew, Luke does not combine the majority of Jesus’ teachings into one single place.  This is one of the reasons why Biblical scholars question whether or not the sermon on the mount was an actual event, or if it was just Matthew’s compilation of Jesus’ teaching.  In either case, the fact is that it is Jesus teachings and the truth that is contained therein is indeed Truth and important for our lives.

You probably noticed some familiar passages in today’s reading, especially in chapter 6.  This is Luke’s version of the beatitudes.  They are fairly similar to the beatitudes found in Matthew with a few minor differences here are there.  Sometimes I think that we get these things a bit misconstrued.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are poor,” and we think that we need to make ourselves poor so that we can be blessed.  Jesus says, “blessed are you who are hungry,” and we think that maybe we should eat less food so that we can be blessed.  The same goes for weeping and even being insulted by others because of our faith.  Jesus is saying that the people the truly experience these things due to the nature of their lives will be blessed, even though they endure hardships now.  He is not instructing people to go out and look for ways to be sad, to make people upset, or to be poor for the sake of receiving blessing.  Indeed, it is the people that, through the living of their lives and the true “shema style” loving of God, find themselves in these situations that are promised blessings, perhaps not in this life but in eternity.

Immediately after speaking of blessings, Jesus turns to woes for those in the opposite situations.  Again, I think we have a tendency to get these things mixed up.  Jesus says, “woe to you who are rich,” and we then think that monetary wealth is something that is inherently bad and those who have it are doomed.  Jesus says, “who to you who are well fed now,” and we start to wonder if we ate too much at our last meal.  He talks about those who laugh and those who are well spoken and we wonder how we are to integrate this teaching into our daily lives.  Should we not be happy?  Should we not be spoken well of?  How are these things, which seem to be really good, actually terribly awful for us in our lives?

It is a matter of the heart.  Jesus is making reference to the way that people live, to the circumstances that they find themselves in naturally and what they decide to do with them.  When Jesus talks about prayer, He says that those who pray aloud so that other people could see them are wrong for doing so, yet He doesn’t say that prayer is bad.  I think this same idea applies here as well and He is speaking against the corruption that He noticed around them, as He mentioned when He was preaching in Nazareth.  Some people will find themselves wealthy in life and others poor.  The wealthy are blessed in a way that they are able to give away a great deal to those in need.  Yet many of them were not doing this.  In fact, they were using their wealth to oppress the poor and Jesus says that the wealth they seek on earth will be their only reward while those that are oppressed will raised up in eternity.  The same goes for those who laugh or for those who are spoken well of.  While these things in and of themselves are not  bad things, those who seek only their own pleasure or their own fame will receive just that… and only that.  While those who are brought low on earth will be raised up for God is a God of justice.  He has a special place for those who are lowly, those who are forgotten by the world.

Jesus is describing here, as I said before, the application of the Shema in its truest form, the greatest commandment that He affirms to the religious leaders (likely the only thing they agreed upon actually).  But the Shema, and its subsequent commend to “love your neighbor as yourself” are not simply outward actions, they are to be heart transformations.  I would encourage you to read the post on the Shema again.  It helps to bring things a bit more into perspective.  This is the highest and truest calling of the people of God out of which flows everything that Jesus is talking about here and throughout His ministry.  We are not to be those who love God with just our lips, but that we would turn our hearts toward Him, and show others this great grace that is offered that they too may be healed.



Day 297: Luke 4-5; Jesus' Ministry Begins

Yesterday we talked about Jesus’ birth and the preparation for ministry that took place before Jesus in the work of John the Baptist.  Today we look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He is baptized by John and then proceeds into the wilderness to be tempted.  As we talked about in Matthew, Jesus life in many ways parallels the journey that the people of Israel took to get to the promised land and to be the people that God called them to be.  While they never actually realized this calling, or at least never fully actualized it, they did follow this same path of “baptism,” wilderness wandering, and eventual entrance into ministry in the promised land.  We don’t often equate Israel’s presence in the promised land as being that of ministry.  They killed, or were supposed to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and then occupy it as an inheritance.  However, remember that Israel was also called to be a light to the nations, a community that was to represent the world to God and God to the world.  Sadly, like I just said, this was never fully realized… at least not until Jesus came to earth.

I think its funny that most of the crown that has gathered to hear John’s teaching really have no idea what is transpiring before them.  Jesus shows up and John recognizes Him, yet it is the greater of the two who requests baptism from the lesser.  Upon protest though, which we see in the account of Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and we see heaven open.  The Spirit descends onto Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice speaks, affirming Jesus as the Son of God to all the people gathered.  This happening is one of the fundamental ways in which we understand baptism.  Baptism has to do with identity.  As a member of the Reformed Church in America, we practice infant baptism where we acknowledge God’s claim on the child’s life, that they are a member of God’s people and an heir to the covenant promises of God.  In this, we acknowledge the child’s true identity.  While John’s baptism was one for the forgiveness of sins, which in many ways is also a change in identity from sinner to forgiven, when Jesus was baptized, He too was given a specific identity.  Perhaps it would be more apt to say that Jesus’ baptism confirmed the identity that was already present… much like we believe infant baptism does to the child of believing parents.

From here Jesus is led by the Spirit that has just descended on to Him into the desert in which we learn that He both fasts and is tempted by the devil.  We don’t know much about the 40 days that Jesus spends in the wilderness apart from the fact that we are told He was tempted and didn’t eat.  It is at the end of this time that the Devil comes to Jesus and tempts Him directly.  There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between this experience and that of Moses at Mount Sinai while Israel in the wilderness.  He too was away for 40 days and there comes a point with the people are tempted as well.  Unlike the people of Israel though, Jesus doesn’t succumb to temptation but refutes the Devil not only with the Word of God, but with the heart of its true meaning.  In some ways I think Jesus is demonstrating the true and right use of the Scriptures as He is not just quoting random verses of the Bible to Satan but is speaking the true meaning of the Word, especially when the devil uses the words of Scripture against Jesus.

Finally, after Jesus returns from the wilderness, He goes to His hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue.  His first Scripture lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah, a teaching about the day of the Lord and the coming of the Messiah.  After reading it, Jesus tells them that the Scripture is fulfilled by His reading it.  Isaiah often talked about the joy and restoration that would come after the time of exile in Babylon saying that things would be different upon the return of God’s people to their land.  However, it wasn’t.  The people of Israel fell back into their old sins.  They were still not the light that they were called to be and still didn’t care for the least, last, and lost that they were called to.  Jesus’ coming signals the dramatic in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.  He comes and the Spirit of God is on Him to be the true Israel, the true human in the face of evil.  Not only does Jesus proclaim these things, but He enacts them as well, fulfilling all that is written about Him throughout Scripture.



Day 296: Luke 2-3; The Birth of Jesus

The Gospel of Luke contains the highest degree of detail surrounding the account of Jesus’ birth.  Like we talked about yesterday, Luke’s whole goal and purpose in writing this Gospel was to “compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us”  as he writes in his intro to Theophilus.  Luke wants to know the facts, which is why there is so much detail surrounding His birth and also why there is very little mention of the Scriptures that these events are fulfilling.  Unlike Matthew, this is not the emphasis of Luke’s writing.  Yet if we read the Old Testament and Luke’s account of Jesus’ life carefully, it becomes quite clear that He is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and is showing that there are definite similarities and much fulfillment that are taking place.

Luke’s account of the immediate details of Jesus birth are probably the most familiar of all four Gospel narratives.  Of the Scriptures that are read on Christmas day in my experience, Luke 2:1-20 was probably there over 75% of the time.  Very often we get caught up in the commercialized version of Jesus’ birth, focusing on the star and the three wise men (Magi) that come to visit Him, which is recorded in Matthew.  Yet today I notice that this particular detail is left out of the passage in Luke.  As a matter of fact, Luke records something that would be considered the exact opposite of Magi as he tells of the visit of the shepherds.  Rather than being honored by the highest of the high, baby Jesus is worshiped by the lowest of the low.  Only the diseased would have been considered lower in Jewish society.  Yet these are the people that God chose to reveal the “good news of great joy.”  I think this difference in the two Gospels marks both the significance of Jesus’ birth and the broad scope of who it would impact.  As the angels say, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”  Both the high and the low from Israel and abroad were drawn to worship Him.  More than that, even the priests and prophets of that time are moved by God’s ‘invasion’ of planet earth.  Truly Christ’s incarnation is for “all the people.

In today’s reading, we also get the account of Jesus’ interactions with the priests at the Temple during the Passover.  We are seeing that Jesus is not just some ordinary kid, but that He is growing up as the Son of God and even at this young age He is “being about His Father’s business.”  It is clear that His parents do not quite fully understand all that is going on in Jesus’ life.  They are astonished that He would act like this, making them worry and search for Him, yet Jesus seems relatively un-phased by the whole thing as if it were only natural for Him to be in the Temple.

Finally today, we see John the Baptist come on to the scene.  Luke makes a point to link John’s ministry in the desert to the passage of Isaiah 52, talking about the one who would come to prepare the way for the Lord.  There is much to be talked about that has to do with Jesus’ preparation for ministry, including His baptism and wilderness experience, however I think today it is important to recognize the preparation that John is doing in the name of the Lord.  We read that “the Word of the Lord came to John” in much the same language that is used to talk about the prophets in the Old Testament.  Though Luke doesn’t always make a point to link what he is writing to the Old Testament Scriptures, in chapter 3 He does it several times making sure that the reader knows that this isn’t something entirely new that is happening, but instead is a continuation of what has already been foretold.  John is preparing the way by calling people to repentance, a voice calling in the desert after several hundred years of what seemed like silence from God.  This direct link along with Luke’s linking Jesus to all of Israel’s history all the way back to Adam is a very specific attempt to show that God has been at work throughout history to bring all of this to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ.



Day 295: Luke 1; Introduction to the Gospel of Luke

The relationships between the three synoptic g...

The relationships between the three synoptic gospels. Source: A Statistical Study of the Synoptic Problem by A.M. Horore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gospel of Luke is the third and last of the “synoptic” Gospels.  Along with Matthew and Mark, the Gospel of Luke seeks to tell the story of Jesus’ life in a fairly similar sequence, often with somewhat similar wording.  In fact, almost half of the content of the books of Luke and Matthew are found in the book of Mark, and about a quarter of the content of Matthew and Luke are the same, though independent of Mark.  The book of John is also one of the Gospels, however it does tell the story of Jesus in quite the same order as the others for various reasons mostly relating to the purpose of John’s writing and his audience.  These “discrepancies” are sometimes sighted as a way of showing that the Gospels are not entirely reliable when it comes to the facts and timeline of Jesus’ life.  However, in many ways this is similar to having four people that were at an event tell you about their experience, not one would be exactly the same as the other, but all would be true from their particular perspective.  If you combine this with the differences in purpose for writing these Gospels, I think that we are blessed in that we can see a several different perspectives of Jesus’ life and ministry, all working together to give us a more in depth view of our Savior.

Though we don’t really know much about Luke as a person, tradition holds that he was a doctor and a contemporary of Paul.  It is also likely that he was a Gentile Christian convert, not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, but who did considerable research into His life and ministry.  If Mark was the “News Report” version of Jesus’ life, Luke would be the documentary.  Luke is the longest of the Gospels, and has really contains the most detail.  Apart from the Gospel of John, Luke also holds within its texts, the highest percentage of unique material of the four Gospels.  Connected to this book is the book of Acts, which we could call “2nd Luke” because it is a continuation of the story as the Apostles transition into the early Church after Jesus is taken to heaven.

Our reading today begins the narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus, talking about their conception and the miraculous events surrounding them  If you read closely the story of Zechariah, you’ll notice several similarities between his story and the story of Abraham and the birth of Isaac.  Both are hold and have barren wives who miraculously conceive in an advanced age.  Both births are foretold by God and are doubted by those that hear them.  More than this though, both births signal the fulfillment of God’s word in both the Covenant and the Prophets and show the reader that God is at work and on the move in a way that only God can be.

Luke 1 also contains the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise for all that has been going on.  Take a moment to think about all that had been going on in Mary’s life.  She had been taken out of her ordinary existence and thrust into the very center of God’s working on earth.  She had been visited by Gabriel, one of the Archangels that has been in the very presence of God almighty.  She now is carrying a baby, still a virgin, of whom she has been told that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  What is her reaction in all of this?  A song of praise to God for all that has happened.  While she could have been afraid, uncertain, and even upset, she recognizes that God is doing something in her life and she trusts Him, and lifts up this song of praise, one of my favorite in the Bible:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.



Day 294: Mark 14-16; The End of the Book of Mark

The last 3 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, that which we have read today, are relatively unremarkable when it comes to the content of Jesus’ last days and its similarity to the other Gospels.  Granted, Mark’s writing style and quick moving through it are certainly different than that of Matthew, Luke, or John, the same material and details are still covered in the Gospel of Mark.  What I would like to discuss today is the unique and somewhat confusing ending of the book of Mark, and some of the issues surrounding the “additions” that were placed after Mark 16:8.

Before we do this, though, there is a very unique and obscure passage at the end of Mark 14, after Jesus is arrested we read these two verses about a “young man” who runs away naked after the officials try to arrest him with Jesus.  Considerable work has been done to ascertain the truth behind this person, who he was and why he was there.  While I think that this is an intriguing line of thought to follow, I think that focusing on him and trying to figure out if he was one of the disciples or anything of the sort is really missing the point of the passage.  Some have even tried to link him to the “young man” of Mark 16:5 who was sitting in the tomb after the stone was rolled away.  I think it would be foolish to say that these people are one in the same, especially considering the accounts of the other Gospels that say that it was an Angel of the Lord that rolled back the stone.  Arguments have been made for this idea simply by the fact that they use the same words to describe both characters.  This is a weak argument at best as the descriptor of “young man” applies in many different situations.  In any case, whether or not they are the same person, I think that when we look at Hebrew culture of the day we see a much greater purpose for the story of the young man running away naked.  Jesus has recently told His disciples that they would all fall away from Him, a comment that they vehemently denied themselves.  Yet, when Jesus was arrested, they all did fall away even to the point of shame.  See, in the Hebrew culture, to show one’s nakedness was a source of great shame.  I think, perhaps among other things, Mark is trying to convey the truth of the deep denial and rejection that set in with Jesus disciples, accompanying their fears as He was arrested.  They were truly exposed, their weaknesses laid out before the Lord.

The other really interesting thing that is presented to us here at the end of Mark is how he ends his writing.  The young man, assumed to be the angel of Matthew 28, says to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” So what do they do?  “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  The End.

What an ending right?  The most monumental, reality changing event in the history of the cosmos has just happened and no body tells anyone about it because they are afraid.  This actually fits in with the motif that has been created around this fleeing young man that we just talked about.  No one says anything, they just run away.  Now, there seems to be more to the story here as there have been additions that were added to the book later.  Whether or not they were added by Mark, or others along the way, they have made it in the canonical Bible which means they are of some significance.  They all, with the exception of the last few verses, carry with them the same theme of doubt and disbelief, a particular interpretation of the post resurrection disciples’ reaction to all these events.  Then Jesus shows up to all of them and rebukes them for their lack of belief and sends them out with power and authority.

I think that a focus on Mark’s audience here makes a big difference in these passages.  Remember that Mark is writing to a Gentile audience, likely Christians in Rome that are under great persecution.  Mark has just laid out for them the whole of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and then ended it by saying, “everyone was afraid, no one said anything, and no one believed.”  I wonder if this isn’t Mark’s particular way of pointing out the Roman Christians’ own reaction to the persecution that they were facing.  If we think of it in this way, I would suggest that not only do these obscure passages make sense but so too does the end of Mark and the few additions (written by whomever they were written by) make sense.  Our tendency is to fall away when we are faced with trials and persecution.  We cannot rely on our own strength.  We would even give in to being shamed by our own actions out of fear.  It isn’t until Christ shows us to strengthen us that we have the strength and courage to move outside of ourselves and tell the good news of the Gospel in the face of all resistance.  May we too find strength from this message, and hope as we ourselves are a light for the nations.



Day 293: Mark 10-13; Jesus' Ministry in Jerusalem

Unlike the Gospel of Matthew, there is a great deal of action that happens all at the same time as Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Much of this we have read in Matthew’s account, but Mark covers a whole lot in a very short amount of time, as is normal for his writing.  Quite often, when we talk about Jesus being in Jerusalem, we tend to mention the Triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, and the Last Supper before Jesus’ death.  What we often tend to skip over is all of the interactions that Jesus has with people while He is in the city during this last week of His life.  Of particular notice, I think, is Jesus’ interactions with the religion leaders and how He continually subverts what they have set up as being their belief system.

The way the religious leaders approach Jesus often reminds me of the way that we as “church-goers” approach new people in our churches.  When the Pharisees or the Sadducees approached Jesus with a question about faith, theology, or doctrine, it wasn’t really because they had a question, it was because they wanted to test Jesus and find out whether He believed the same way that they believed.  They were also looking for a way to trap Jesus and get Him to say something wrong so that they could prove that He wasn’t a good teacher or someone that the people should listen to of follow.  This isn’t that much different from how we often treat new comers to our churches.  We do our best to make it seem as though we are a warm community that welcomes all into our fellowship.  We have people posted to greet everyone at the door, and time after the worship service in which we provide refreshments and enjoyable fellowship and conversations.  We even have people “sign in” so that we can send them a nice note thanking them for joining us for worship.  Yet, there are those that also take the role of the religious leaders of Jesus day too.

These are the people that go up to new families and guests that are visiting with a great and wonderful smile, asking them about their kids and about what they do, all the while analyzing every word that they are saying looking for something that might hint that their true “difference” from the community that they are trying to join.  If small talk doesn’t reveal anything, we might turn to politics or even religious matters, all in the name of “getting to know” our new “friend.”  What are we looking for?  Something that would make them different than us.  Maybe they have a differing political view.  Perhaps its a questionable job.  It might even be (and heaven forbid it if it is) that they don’t believe quite the same way that we do, or maybe they have questions about their faith.  Things like this send us into red-alert and we start talking to others about “the new family.”

There are many things that spur us to act like this.  Many if not all of them were probably similar reasons that the religious leaders questioned Jesus as well.  Fear is probably the greatest motivator here; fear of change or that the community will be disrupted because of new thoughts or questions.  We don’t want the boat to be rocked, we just want to be comfortable.  The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t want change either.  They had things working pretty well in their favor and the pressure that Jesus was placing on them was palpable.  So they plotted and schemed in their dark corners.  I’m sure their conversations sounded similar to what ours do today; “did you hear about Carol-Anne?  We should pray for her and her family… I heard that she… [insert gossip].”  We try so hard to make ourselves look pious and upright, but in the end, we too are just trying to nail them up on a cross for sins that we made up for them… that they likely didn’t commit… that were none of our business… and that they have already been forgiven for.



Day 292: Mark 7-9; Transfiguration

Today we read about the ministry that Jesus continues to do as He moves from Galilee to other parts of the region of Canaan as He begins to make His way towards Jerusalem.  There are a lot of familiar narratives that take place in today’s reading, much of which we read in the Gospel of Matthew and will read again in the Gospel of Luke.  There is a noticeable shift in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark over that of the Gospel of Matthew in that Jesus is interacting with many Gentiles and healing people outside of the Jewish heritage more so than he did in Matthew.  Some people might consider this a discrepancy in the Gospels, but the reality of the matter still has to do with the audience that these writers are writing to.  Matthew’s goal was to show that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, therefore he focused a great deal on the like and ministry of Jesus with the Jews.  Mark’s purpose of writing was to show the events of Jesus’ life as they pertained to all people, therefore he isn’t so concerned with who Jesus is interacting with as much as He is concerned with the content of the interactions.

In light of the repetitive nature of today’s reading, not that repeating things like this is bad, I would really like to take a moments to talk through something that we didn’t have a chance to talk about in the book of Matthew, that is Jesus transfiguration.  We are presented with a narrative that contains within it images that are similar to those of the prophets and even the book of Revelation.  Jesus, while on the mountain with His three closest disciples, is “transfigured” before them.  This word ‘transfigured’ comes from the Greek word μεταμορφόω (pronounced metamorphoō – from which we get the word metamorphosis) and literally means to undergo a change in physical or external form or a spiritual transformation.  For me, this conjures up images of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, something that is rather commonplace turning into something of extraordinary beauty.  Yet the text tells us that this was like nothing they had ever seen before.  Jesus’ clothes were whiter than any garment could be bleached.  John Calvin, in his commentary on the transfiguration says this about what the disciples saw:

“His transfiguration did not altogether enable his disciples to see Christ, as he now is in heaven, but gave them a taste of his boundless glory, such as they were able to comprehend… Thus in ancient times God appeared to the holy fathers, not as He was in Himself, but so far as they could endure the raise of His infinite brightness… There is no necessity for entering here into ingenious inquiries as to the whiteness of his garments, or the brightness of his countenance; for this was not a complete exhibition of the heavenly glory of Christ, but, under symbols which were adapted to the capacity of the flesh, he enabled them to taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.”  -John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke; Vol. 1.

Every commentary that I have read talks about the Transfiguration as being a very particular revealing of Jesus divinity in a life in which His humanity is often emphasized.  Sometimes I think we forget this contrast, this paradox of Jesus being both completely human and completely divine at the same time.  Calvin points out here that what the disciples are seeing is a “translated” image of the true glory of Jesus, seen in a way that the mortal disciples would be able to comprehend.  God’s true glory is like a completely foreign language to us, so foreign in fact that we have absolutely no way of comprehending it.  In every vision that we see recorded of God, we get a description of human(ish) features and are so much more real, more glorified than we are, and yet this is still just a translation of the true glory and nature of God, something we will never know truly on this earth.  The Transfiguration is an in-breaking of the heavenly, divine aspect of Jesus into this reality.  Jesus divinity is confirmed by the voice of God here, in the same Words that were used at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My Son whom I Love.  Listen to Him!

Some commentaries on this event talk about the significance of Elijah and Moses appearing and talking with Jesus in this time.  Moses and Elijah were two of the greatest figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, both of which were taken away.  There are suggestions that this happens for the disciples benefit, to prove to them that Jesus is not a reincarnation of either one, but is exalted above both of them.  Another suggestion is that Elijah represented the prophets while Moses represented the Law.  Both of these could be true, or at the very least can help to color our reading of this passage.  However, I think that we would be remiss if we thought that those things were more important than what is happening with Jesus in this time.  We are seeing the true Divine, Son of God in the fullness of His glory, or at least what our human minds can understand.  One other thing is very true about this reading in all three Gospels in which it is recorded, from this point on Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem, to His eventual death, and never looks back.



Day 291: Mark 4-6; Jesus' Ministry in Galilee

Mark waists no time in continuing the narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We begin our reading today with some of the parables of Jesus and the explanations that He gives His disciples about them.  I think it is interesting how He does that, quoting an obscure passage of Isaiah, and not really offering much of what we would consider a solid explanation.  I guess I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this, but Jesus makes the point that the “secrets” of the Kingdom of God are revealed to His disciples (and by extension those who believe), yet for those that don’t, these may be something that they can grab a hold of.  Maybe it is like the seed of the parable that is sown into their hearts, something that the gardener (God) would water and cultivate over time.  In any case, Jesus teaches in this way throughout His ministry.

Another thing that we start to see emerging here, something that perhaps wasn’t as clear in Matthew, is the contrast between those who believe and those who do not believe.  As Jesus continues His ministry, we see Him interacting with more and more people in different regions of Galilee.  What is interesting, and probably what the religious leaders of the time despised, is that Jesus associates more and more with the people they would have considered outcasts by virtue of the law.  Jesus eats with sinners, associates with demon possessed people, heals the sick, and even talks to Gentiles (which sadly enough was worse than all the rest of these put together).  Even in Jesus’ home town, where all the people would have known Him since His youth, Jesus is rejected and very few people believe.  Contrast this with the woman who just wanted to touch a piece of Jesus’ cloak to get healing because she was to humiliated and afraid to ask.  What does Jesus say to her?  “Your faith has made you well, go in peace.”  Mark goes back and forth with this theme as a way of showing very clearly that for those who believe, great healing and peace will come, and for those that don’t, no peace or healing is found.

Finally today, I think that there the particular theme that emerges in chapter six is that of abundance.  While we could look at this in many different ways, I think that the word ‘abundance’ seems to fit.  Jesus calls His disciples to Himself and sends them out empowers to preach and to heal in the same what that He has been doing.  They go out and what we see, though it is not recorded as well in this book, is the Kingdom of God appearing throughout the region in abundance.  Many people are healed, freed from spirits, and given hope.  Next, after the interlude of John the Baptist’s death, we see the narrative of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  This too is a theme of abundance and carries with it the themes from the Lord’s Supper.  As one professor has said to me, “if there is water in the narrative, you best be thinking baptism.  If there is food in the narrative, you best be thinking Communion.”  Though we do not see the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, we do see the image of Jesus breaking bread and giving it to the people.  In this we see that there is an abundance!  In fact, there is more than an abundance, there is an overflow!  Jesus is revealing to the people that in the Kingdom of God there is no wanting, no hunger, no need, there is only abundance.



Day 290: Mark 1-3; Intro To The Gospel of Mark

Today we begin reading the second of the four Gospels, that which is said to be written by John Mark who was an associate of Peter, Paul, and Barnabus in the book of Acts.  Chronologically speaking, it is held that Mark was likely the first of the four gospels to be written and was directed towards Gentile Christians, possibly in Rome, who were facing persecution for their faith.  The book of Mark is very different from the book of Matthew in the way that it is set up.  Mark is focused primarily on the information about what happened in Jesus life, offering knowledge to those that might not know the story of Jesus.  He doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus to the Old Testament prophecies like Matthew, in an attempt to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, but rather makes a statement right at the beginning relating what is to come to what has already come to pass.  In this way, Mark has shown the reader that this is not something out of the blue but it is a continuation of the story of God from Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This would have been a major encouragement to those who were dealing with the difficulties and persecutions as they could relate to not only to Jesus suffering and death, but also to His resurrection and ultimately look forward to His return as well.

The Gospel of Mark has almost the feel of a news reporter, jumping from one event to the next seamlessly and immediately.  As a matter of fact, one way to know that you are reading the Gospel of Mark without looking at the reference is to look for the word “immediately” or “suddenly.”  Mark’s writing often takes the feel of ‘and then Jesus did this… and then Jesus said that… and then Jesus healed…”  There is very little temporal understanding of what happens in between because it is not entirely critical to the message of Jesus life.

What we do see from Mark is the setup of Jesus as a powerful healer, teacher, and servant who is spreading the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven wherever He goes.  This can be seen right away in chapter one of Mark.  Jesus waists no time after He is baptized and goes into the wilderness.  He immediately comes back and starts teaching and healing and calling people back to God.  What we see immediately too is that as soon as He does, the religious leaders of Israel are opposed to Him.  What I thought was interesting about this was the fact that the people saw Jesus’ teaching as one that had authority, more so than that of the ‘leaders’ of the time.  Mark contrasts Jesus’ authority with that of the religious leaders right away in the healing and exorcism that He performs.  The crowds are amazed not that there is a spirit in the man (for this would have been relatively commonplace for their worldview) but that the spirit listens to Jesus without question or hesitation.

Mark also works to set up Jesus as being the Messiah, the Savior of the world with authority above that of the Law.  Though Jesus wasn’t one to intentionally go out and break the Law, He is constantly and consistently explaining and showing the religious leaders the true nature of the Law rather than their foolish interpretations of it.  Jesus is setting Himself not as an alternate way to the Law but as the fulfillment of it in its truest form.  This will continue to be important as we move through Mark and the rest of the New Testament as well.  There is a growing movement of people in the Church that think that the New Testament is all we need and the Old Testament is simply defunct and out of date because of the coming of Jesus.  A careful reading of any of the Gospels and the New Testament will make it clear that, as Jesus says, He “has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”  May we keep this in mind as we continue our journey through God’s Word.



Day 289: Matthew 27-28; The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

There is so much to say about today’s reading that I honestly don’t even know where to start.  How does one effectively cover the death and resurrection of Jesus in one single blog post?  To be honest, I think Matthew does less of a job here in linking his writing and the events of Jesus’ life with the Old Testament than he does with the rest of his book.  However, he does do a good job of chronicling the whole of Jesus death from start to finish.  Matthew also has what is probably the most well known account of Jesus’ resurrection which is followed immediately by His ascension and great commission.

I think that instead of commenting on every little part of this narrative, I will just talk about few things that struck me as I was reading through this section of Scripture.  Really this began in our reading from yesterday, when Jesus was brought before the high priests.  Jesus was being questioned and is actually charged by the religious leaders that he answer under an oath before the God of heaven.  What I think is interesting about this is that they are not actually looking for the truth, they are looking for a reason to condemn Jesus because He has become dangerous to them.  Sadly the people that know the Scriptures the best, those that should have known and seen the Messiah’s coming, were the ones to condemn Him in the face of the truth He spoke to them.  Notice that He doesn’t answer the religious leaders at all again in Matthew’s account.

What we see through all of this is a constant stream of realization about what is going on here, at least one some level, from many different people that are involved in it.  As Jesus stands trial before Pilate, he is warned to not be involved in this ordeal by his wife.  Yet he doesn’t stop the proceedings because of a fear of the crowd and the riot that was starting.  From a historical standpoint, this is a legitimate fear because the Jewish people had rioted and rebelled against the dominant government many times in their history and actually won.  Pilate seems to try and get Jesus out of this whole thing, but fails and washes his hands of the whole order.

Something happens here that I think is very interesting though… ironic really.  Did you recognize what the people of Jerusalem say when Pilate tells them that Jesus’ blood would be on their heads?  They speak out and say this thing that I’m sure they don’t really understand, “His blood be on us and on our children!”  What an unbelievably theological proclamation… and they would probably never understand it.  They were calling for the crucifixion of the Son of God, the plan that was for them all along, that He would die and His blood would indeed be poured out for them.

So Jesus is taken out and crucified at Golgatha and at the moment of His death there is an earthquake and the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn… from top to bottom.  This is incredibly symbolic of the action that is taking place here.  Because Jesus is dying for us in our place, through His blood our relationship with God can be restored.  We could have ripped the Temple curtain from the bottom up exposing the throne of God to the world, but it would not have done anything to restore our relationship with God.  It had to be an action of God that restored our relationship with Him; it could never be us.  At this time too the soldier standing guard at the cross recognizes Jesus as the Son of God.

Finally, Jesus is is raised from the dead and this is witnessed by both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, and all of the soldiers that were posted at Jesus’ tomb.  I have to imagine that witnessing an event like this was more than likely convincing for these guards who had to be paid off to be kept quiet.  Really, with all the shaking, tearing, dead raising, and darkness that was taking place, not to mention angelic appearances, it is a wonder that everyone didn’t know something was going on.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the great commission at the end of the book of Matthew.  In many ways, this is one of the passages from which the church derives its identity as a sent community.  Jesus doesn’t offer His disciples the opportunity to keep their mouths shut about this, but commands them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel in His name… the name under which all authority has been given.  We as believers have not been given the message of salvation only so that we can keep it to ourselves.  We are a community of believers in Jesus Christ who are sent out into the world to preach the Gospel, the Good News that in Jesus our sins our forgiven and we have been set free!  We go knowing that Jesus is with us always.