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.



Day 288: Matthew 25-26; The Lord's Supper – Passover Rebooted

Today’s reading is likely a familiar narrative for many people.  The story of Jesus’ death is likely the most told story of Christianity, rivaled I think only by the story of His birth.  While there is a lot to cover, and we will cover it, I think this time through I would like to look a bit deeper into the Lord’s supper.  To do this, I would like to offer some thoughts and then I am going to include some writing I have done for our Church recently regarding Communion.  I hope that this writing helps to locate this celebration of the Sacrament a bit more in the context and also give a bit of light to all that we do to celebrate it.  We will talk more about this again too as this is one of the most important parts of Christian Worship.

It is important to remember that the Lord’s Supper is actually an extension of the Passover celebration that has taken place since the time that the Hebrew people were in Egypt.  They were charged to celebrate this feast in remembrance of the night that the Lord “passed over” the people of Israel when He killed all the first born of Egypt.  There is a great deal of symbolic action that takes place here that has to do with sacrifice of a lamb, the use of blood as a marker for exemption from punishment, and even a communal meal together.  All of these things are shadows of what was to come, the fulfillment that would be found in Jesus Christ!  Remember that, especially in the early church, the Passover meal would have been the context in which the Lord’s Supper would have been understood; none of it really made sense to them without this historical fact.  Keep in mind too that, though we live in a different context, this “greatest of sacraments” has a lot deeper meaning than just taking a bread cube or reciting a liturgy.  I hope that the following helps a little.  We will talk more about this in coming posts.  I think it is also important to remember and recognize, as we read today, the different places where Matthew says “to fulfill Scripture” and such.  Again this is important because of the audience that Matthew is writing to and the point he is trying to make.

The Table, part of our response to God, is a very unique time for Christians in the Church.  I would like to take a moment to talk through this time, though I must admit that a moment will hardly do it justice.  Often in the Church, especially the reformed churches we have focused in on one very particular meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and have kept its practice well in check.  Yet in doing this, sometimes we lose the much fuller, richer, and deeper meanings behind our practice of going to the Table.  It is appropriate that we talk about Communion in this week as we prepare for the Church’s celebration of Worldwide Communion Sunday on October 6.

As we approach the Table on our communion Sundays, we often read the same liturgy which talks about the meaning of the sacrament and we say that the Supper which we are about to eat is a feast of “remembrance, communion, and hope.”  Following this, we often explain what it means to remember, to commune, and what we have hope for.  Some liturgies specifically state that the Lord’s Supper is a feast of “Remembrance, Celebration, and Anticipation” for many of the same reasons.  When we come to the Table, we remember the night that Jesus was betrayed as well as His death on the cross through which we receive atonement in His blood.  In this supper we also celebrate, because Christ did not only die, but He has risen from the dead and is ascended into heaven from which He sits and reigns!  We celebrate because our sins our forgiven and we have received grace upon grace!  We also anticipate, and our anticipation comes from the hope that we have that we are not left to struggle on our own, but Christ is with us Spiritually and will one day again be with us on this earth when He comes again in glory!

Along with these three main thematic elements, the Church in the New Testament used several different terms for this sacramental celebration, though they wouldn’t have called it a sacrament back then as the word sacrament actually comes from the Latin word for mystery.  Each of these four terms comes with different Scriptural references and emphasizes different elements of the Table.  The first of these and probably the most familiar to us is “The Lord’s Supper.”  This is referenced in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and points to communion as being the Lord’s Supper.  Here we see an emphasis placed on unity and equality as we come to the Table, reminding us that this Table, this feast is not ours but God’s.  The reference to 1 Corinthians 11 is also one of the foundational texts that were used in writing the Belhar Confession, the RCA’s newest confession emphasizing unity within the Church.  We need to remember this as we come to the Table, that Christ welcomes sinners (including ourselves) at His table to fellowship with Him.

Communion is also a familiar reference to the sacrament of the Table that we celebrate.  The ESV Bible that we now use here at ORC, in 1 Corinthians 10, has substituted the word “communion” for “participation” which only helps us to better understand this particular emphasis.  When we partake of the bread and the cup we are communing with and participating in the Body of Christ.  In this we touch Christ and Christ touches us, not in a manner in which these elements actually are Christ’s physical body, but in a spiritual sense in that at the Table, for these brief moments, Heaven and earth meet and we actually come to the Table of our Lord and sit with Him.  The liturgies of the earth church, and the great prayer of thanksgiving that is included on the next page, held this view as well.  As we approach the table we are lifted up and the barriers between heaven and earth are broken down and we are welcomed at the Table of our Lord.  This isn’t often how we think about Communion, especially as we sit in our seats and receive the elements from a tray, but it is a greater vision of what is happening in this time.  We are both communing with our Lord, but we are also participating as part of His Body.  Augustine said of this, when you take the elements, “Be what you see, receive what you are.”

The final two terms for the sacrament that we use a bit less are the terms “Breaking of the Bread” and “Eucharist.”  These terms come from Acts 2 and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark respectively.  The emphases of these are both fellowship and thanksgiving.  Acts 2 gives us a vision of the early church in which the believers celebrated “the breaking of bread” whenever they were together.  Jesus Himself gives us a vision of giving thanks when He breaks the bread and when He passes the cup as He explains these things to His disciples.

On the next page, you will see the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, a prayer that has been used before communion for many years.  See if you can find elements of what we just talked about in this prayer.



Day 287: Matthew 23-24; Teaching on the "End Times"

With the release of the “Left Behind Series” and other associated books, the craze of thoughts and speculation about the end of the world has been at an all time high.  Associated with this, the amount of theories about the end of the world has also been on the rise leading to a great deal of Christian bickering and generalized disagreements about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the second coming of Christ.   I would dare say that, though the fad that these books were is dissipating into the cultural abyss, the continual talk of war, the seeming increase in catastrophic natural disasters, and the decline of morality in culture have all spurred on these conversations as well.  Often times we see these discussions get heated and passionate as people try to defend their understanding of the end of time.  On the other hand, some people in churches have opted for a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.  I don’t necessarily think that this is a good idea either.  As we see in our reading today, this isn’t necessarily something that Jesus avoids due to its controversial nature, but rather tackles head on in His teaching before the Passover.

I really do not think that a single blog post that is meant to cover the reading of Scripture for a day is a good place to start a debate around the differences in millennial kingdom views or the reasoning behind why dispensationalism as theology is a very poor reading of the whole of Scripture.  However, as a person of the Reformed Denomination of Christianity, my views are colored by how I have been taught and what I (and a great many others) feel is a more dutiful and faithful reading and interpretation of the whole of Scripture, not just certain verses here and there.  As I have said before, this is not a code that we are to decipher with some hidden meaning that God only wants us to have if we look hard enough.  Scripture is God’s REVELATION of Himself and His work throughout history which means that He is revealing it to us; it is an open book and we need to make sure that we read Scripture within the context of itself.

Anyway, enough of that soap box.  Perhaps we can take up that discussion some other time.  Jesus’ teaching today primarily covers the end of time when Jesus will return and the restoration and consummation of creation will be complete.  If I were to venture an opinion here, I would say that for as often as we talk about the end of time, we so often get the focus of Jesus’ teaching here and in other places wrong.  Jesus doesn’t necessarily talk about the exact events leading up to it.  Yes, he says that there will be natural disasters and wars, but all this, He says, is “the beginning of birth pains.”  To say that any one war or disaster is what Jesus was talking about would be foolish.  There have been hundreds of wars and even more natural disasters since the time that Jesus was taken to heaven.  We cannot be so egocentric, ethnocentric, geocentric, or even temporal-centric to think that our time, place, and people are more important somehow than any others.  We cannot assume that Jesus was talking about America or the Nuclear bomb.  What we have to understand here is that Jesus is saying that these things are the beginning of the end… and the end has been beginning since the beginning.

So what is Jesus’ main point here?  Perseverance.  Jesus says that His followers will be persecuted, even unto death.  He says that many will come claiming to be ‘the Christ’ but will not be.  Times will be hard, wickedness will increase, but those “who stand firm to the end will be saved.”  Jesus is saying to His followers, to all believers, “Keep the Faith!  Don’t turn from me just because its difficult.  By this you will be a testimony to me throughout the whole world.”  He goes on to quote from Daniel, referencing again a great evil that will destroy much.  Some say this was fulfilled by the son of Emperor Vespasian, Titus, who erected an idol over the destroyed Temple in 70 AD.  Some would say that Jesus was offering this reference to the Jewish people because they would recognize it as the event when Antiochus Epiphanes IV sacrificed a pig on the alter of God.  Yet there are many that would argue that this is something yet to be fulfilled.  I wonder if all three of these could be right.  These two events represent a great evil in our world, the unfettered, unhindered rebellion against God.  Perhaps there have been many more of these events?  Could Hitler be an abomination that causes desolation?  I think he certainly fits the bill.  But does that mean that Jesus is coming soon?  Well… Jesus has been coming soon since the book of Revelation was written, since He left this earth… so… yes, Jesus is coming soon.

The truth of the matter, however, is just as Jesus states it:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.  Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

 



Day 286: Matthew 21-22; Jesus Enters Jerusalem

We turn now our attention to what the Christian Faith considers “Holy Week,” the final week of Jesus’ life.  Matthew chronicles all of the teachings and events of Jesus during this week in particular detail.  Other Gospels place a great deal more emphasis on the last couple days of Jesus life, but Matthew continually covers the whole of the week.  I think there is a very specific reason for his doing this as well.  Remember that Matthew’s point in writing is to show the Jewish people that Jesus is indeed the Messiah that they had been waiting for.  For Him to do this, He needs to show Jesus as such, contrasting Him with the image that they had set up for themselves.  Matthew is making the point over and over and over again that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, even if He wasn’t exactly what the people expected.

In many ways this is seen more clearly in the paradox that surrounds Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  As Jesus entered the city, going up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and ultimately His death, He did so in the manner that was foretold about the Messiah.  Matthew mentions this here:

Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt,the foal of a beast of burden.’

Once again Jesus’ actions are so clearly and distinctly following Scripture.  Yet, as we have talked about the last couple of days, the religious leaders still just don’t get it.  These are people that would have memorized the Torah and would have been intimately familiar with the writings of the prophets, yet they still do not understand.  Jesus even points this out to them later when He is in the Temple:

Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?

I keep wondering about this.  How is it possible that these pharisees missed all of these blatant signs that were before them?  I guess it really does boil down to their hearts being dull so that they really did not see or hear any of what was happening before them.

Jesus continues His ministry and teaching throughout this week in the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding towns.  Every time the pharisees come before Jesus, He quotes Scripture to them and sends them on their way looking foolish.  This is the strange paradox of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the whole of this last week of His life.  If there was ever a time that we can clearly see His true nature out in the open, it is here.  He has even directed those who would challenge Him back to the very Scriptures that speak of His coming, and yet they still do not believe.

Interestingly enough, Jesus brings His teaching full circle, all the way back around in all that He has talked about and shown the people and the religious leaders.  He does so at the end of our reading today when asked about the “greatest commandment.”  What does Jesus reference?  The Shema.  I encourage you to look at this again because it really brings to light what Jesus is talking about in all of the Gospels, and in our reading today.  All these things that have happened, all the challenging of the religious leaders takes place because at the end of the day they have not lived into this commandment.  The goal, the point and purpose was to love God in a way that would transform the whole life, keeping it in the front of one’s mind all the time and everywhere.  I wonder if we miss this point from time to time in the Church as well?  Do we see Jesus for who He is, or are we too busy looking for what we think He looks like?



Day 285: Matthew 18-20; Jesus Continues Teaching

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, which we will continue to read about and see in the next three Gospels, Jesus is continually teaching his disciples and the myriad of crowds that are following Him.  The subject of these teachings ranges across the spectrum of the human experience.  However, Jesus was not simply a man of many words, talking a good talk, but He is also one who walks the walk as well.  As we have continued to talk about the life and ministry of Jesus we have continued to talk about this in different ways as well.  Jesus’ teaching has a lot to do with actions and interactions, the way we are with those that are around us.  We, along with Jesus, have criticized the pharisees for their “works based righteousness” mentality, and we have seen very clearly what Jesus says about them and how that is related to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Sometimes I think that it seems like, and we interpret the teachings of Jesus in a very similar fashion to that of the pharisees.  Quite often in the contemporary church we hear sermons about how we need to try hard to be good so that God will be happy with us and bless us.  We are told that if we give enough money or if we do enough good deeds we will meet a certain quota of goodness and we will get rewarded.  Perhaps we even make it sound a bit more spiritual than this too.  We use words like “servant” and “humility” because they are words that we hear Jesus using in the Bible.  We are told that we need to follow Jesus’ example even unto death to do good things which will help God to be happy with us.  However, we are careful to avoid the phrase “righteousness” because we wouldn’t want people to think that they can make themselves righteous, we just basically insinuate it and push people to live up to an impossible ideal.

Sadly, this is so completely contrary to the teachings and actions of Jesus in His life, and this infringes on and violates so many doctrines that if it were closely examined, the Christian faith would fall apart.  We, like the disciples and the people of Israel, are called by God not of our own merit, elected by Him and predestined to be believers in Jesus Christ (which is where we are different than the Jews).  We believe that we are sinners, sinful by nature and that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves to redemption.  Yet we live as though we have to do everything right to earn our salvation for ourselves.  We teach others as if this is the reality of our life and faith too.  Friends, these things are mutually exclusive.  What is the difference?  The place that our heart is in.

As believers we are indeed called to “life a life worthy of the calling we have received.”  However, the purpose of living this life is not out of necessity for righteousness or out of some quest to make ourselves perfect, but out of gratitude for the grace that is shown us.  This is the true calling of Israel and it is the true calling of the people of God.  We were chosen when we deserved not to be!  We have been redeemed through no work of our own!  We have been shown abundant grace and mercy, redemption in the face of sin and condemnation!  We have been blessed to be a blessing; given light for a dark world!  Knowing what we know, seeing what we’ve seen, how can we not live a life of love and gratitude?  What’s the difference?  Where our heart is!  When our hearts are focused on God, all the things that Jesus teaches about here like forgiveness, having a servant’s heart, loving one another, mercy, grace, and even healing all flow out of us naturally.  Ultimately though it is about the heart, it flows out of our hearts and lives not as an attempt at righteousness, but because we have already been made righteous.



Day 284: Matthew 15-17; Contrast of Faiths

There are a lot of things that happen in today’s reading; a great deal of different mini-stories that are seemingly disconnected.  Jesus is talking to different people, healing different people, and doing miracles for many.  Though they kind of seem like a disconnected bunch of micro-narratives, these are actually quite connected as a continuing contrast of those who think that they have faith, and those who actually do.

Our reading starts out with a question from the Pharisees regarding the breaking of tradition.  They were concerned with the fact that Jesus’ disciples were not doing the ritual washing before they eat.  This was one of the “laws” that we talked about when we discussed Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  They considered this as being something akin to faith, showing that they followed the rituals as a way of obedience.  Jesus’ response?  He calls them hypocrites and points them to the real Law that they are actually breaking.  More than that though, He again quotes Isaiah:

This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew then contrasts this story, the faith of the “righteous,” religious leaders of the day with that of an outcast.  In that day it would have been completely inappropriate for a woman to approach a male teacher like Jesus.  Moreover, it would have been absolutely out of the question for a Gentile to approach a Jewish person in that day.  Yet despite Jesus seeming to ignore her (Matthew’s point being that Jesus was saying that He is the Messiah sent to Israel, not that He is heartless and cruel) she shows her faith in Jesus through her words and her persistence, knowing that she was unworthy but also that Jesus was the only one who could help her.  Jesus even points out her great faith and what happens?  Her son is healed.

A few verses later we see the narrative of Jesus feeding four thousand people.  Because of His compassion, Jesus asks his disciples to feed the crowds.  I can only imagine the look on their faces when he said that.  Each of them could have worked their entire life and not made enough money to feed 4,000 men (plus women and children).  Jesus doesn’t chastise this question, neither does he tell them how it will happen, He just sends them to feed them with the few loaves and fish.  The disciples obey and what happens?  They feed the people and there are seven baskets of leftovers!  Now, there are a bunch of different themes here including the abundance of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Lord’s Supper, etc. We will talk about these, and the Transfiguration at another time.  However, I want to point out that the disciples listened to Jesus and obeyed even though the didn’t understand, and in that things happened!

So this brings together three narratives, all having to do (on some level) with faith.  As we proceed in our reading today we see (in some ways) the results of these interactions.  The Pharisees have connected their “faith” with the traditions, believing that what they do and how they follow the “law” is the same as belief.  Like we talked about, they even set up laws to protect the laws, just to make sure that they didn’t transgress any of them.  For them obedience to the law was an end in itself and the result of their “faith” was that they came back to Jesus asking for more signs.  Though it was clearly in front of them, the could not see it with their eyes, or hear it with their ears, because their heart was dull.  They wanted to see it their way and hear it their way… and it wound up with them being lost in their “faith.”

We also saw the example of the Gentile woman, whom we don’t hear from again, but we saw the contrast of her and the pharisees in that healing touched her because of her faith.

The final contrast comes in the story of Peter’s declaration of faith.  After the feeding of the Four Thousand, and the return and dismissal of the pharisees, Jesus asks His disciples who people say He is.  While it is a bit of a leap to say that the event of the feeding was the turning point of Peter’s faith, it is not so much of a leap to say that Peter’s accumulated experiences with Jesus had helped to bring him to the point of this declaration.  Though he may have not understood all that was going on at the time, Peter followed and listened, he was open and obedient to Jesus and his faith grew.  Now we see Peter declaring, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, at which point Jesus says that it is on him (and presumably a faith like his) that the church (the Greek word ἐκκλησία) will be built and the powers of hell will not be able to shake it.  This is the kind of faith that Matthew is setting up as the right faith for the Jews.  Their hope does not rest on the law, the land, or their traditions, but in the coming Messiah whom he is showing us in Jesus Christ.



Day 283: Matthew 13-14; Parables and Miracles

Today we come to a section of Matthew that covers many of the well known parables of Jesus and some of the better known miracles as well.  In sermons we tend to hear bits and pieces of today’s reading so I thought it was very interesting to read them together as a united whole.  One thing that struck me right off the bat was Jesus’ explanation of the parable and the reasoning for it.  Immediately Jesus quotes the passage from Isaiah 6, when God commissions and sends Isaiah out to the people of Israel.

You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.

This is an interesting and hard teaching that Jesus quotes, and it is no less difficult in His day.  Jesus has been sent, bringing with Him the Kingdom of Heaven which we see breaking into this fallen world in practically every place Jesus goes.  So why is it that there are some people that just don’t seem to get it?  Why, when all these amazing things are happening, do the “religious leaders” question and criticize Jesus’ actions rather than seeing them as a sign from God as Scripture said?  It might have something to do with what God said to Isaiah and what Jesus quotes here.

These leaders, the “righteous” people have heard the message of Jesus, but they do not understand it.  They have seen with their eyes the works of Jesus by they do not perceive it.  Why is this?  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that their hearts have “grown dull” trying to follow all the laws that they have set up for themselves.  They have become so consumed with their own righteousness that they have actually closed their eyes and ears to the reality of the Scriptures in front of them.  Sadly this was the story of Israel at the time of Isaiah and it is the story of many during the time of Jesus as well.

I have to admit that I am reflecting on this passage today in the midst of conversations about Classis Examinations and some of the dysfunction that comes along with them.  Often times, at least in some exams, candidates are grilled on certain topics because some pastors have decided to use that time to get on their soapbox about particular issues.  While the names and the issues are irrelevant, the point I am reflecting on is whether the Church, or perhaps parts of it have become a lot like these religious leaders.  We have the Gospel laid out before us and we have seen the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those that God has drawn to Himself, and yet we spend more time questioning people’s faith, making sure that they believe the same way that we do, than speaking the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven.  I wonder if we have become so engrossed in our culture, in the “hot-button issues” of the day, that we are failing to God’s work in the world right now.  Are we at risk of our hearts becoming dull?  It’s time for us to open our eyes to the work of God and open our ears to the message of the Gospel once again!



Day 282: Matthew 10-12; Go and Tell What You Hear and See

While there are many different themes that present themselves in today’s reading, the one that sticks out most to me is that of those being sent out by Jesus.  As we pick up the narrative of Jesus’ ministry today we see Jesus preparing the disciples and then sending them out to the towns and villages of Israel, to the “lost sheep” spreading the news of the Kingdom of heaven.  He gives them specific instructions about how to prepare and what to expect, though we hear very little about the message that they are to give apart from the fact that “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”    Apart from that they are to heal the sick, raise the dead, and even cast out demons.  Generally speaking they are called to be and do what the people of Israel were called to be and do.  What we are seeing here is the beginnings of the “Kingdom of Heaven” or “the day of the Lord” as the prophets put it.  We don’t get a report back here, but in the book of Luke chapter 10 we hear the return of the 72 that Jesus sends out after He sends out the Twelve Disciples and the reports are astonishing.  All that they were sent to do was done and in each instance we see an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Later in today’s reading we see the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus to ask questions of Him.  I love Jesus’ response here: “God and tell John what you hear and see.”  It’s as if Jesus is asking them if what they have experienced meant nothing… they needed confirmation still even in the midst of all these miracles.  The advance of the Kingdom of God on this world is well underway, yet still there are doubts.

I wonder if we too think in these manners.  I wonder if we have any experience that can share with others.  As many of the Christians I know discuss how to best do evangelism and reach out to “the lost” in their different churches, it seems as though we always come back to the question of “how inviting are we as a church” as if the call of God is to be the warmest, most comfortable church in town so that people will come to us.  Yet that’s not what we see as an example here.  Jesus hasn’t set Himself in a local synagogue to preach and teach and make it warm and welcoming, He is out in the neighborhoods and towns, and sending people out into other neighborhoods and towns to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven.  What is that proclamation?  It is the very thing that He sent His disciples to do: heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and preach the good news to the poor!  This is what Jesus is doing and this is what He sends His disciples to do.  They are a “sent community.”  This is a theme that will come back time and again in the Gospels and in the whole of the New Testament and it is not a new one either.  The people of Israel were not given the land of Canaan so they could build walls and keep the people of the world out, they were placed there because they were GUARANTEED to have interactions with the nations around them.  Have you received Jesus into your life?  Have you experienced the grace of God and the redemption that He offers?  Go and tell the world what you experience in the love of God!



Day 281: Matthew 8-9; Jesus Heals Many

This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Honestly, I think that we could just stop with that for today, reading through all of the different healing that Jesus did throughout the beginning of his ministry, we just remember that this is indeed the culmination of the many promises of what was to come when the Messiah came.  Think back to all the different prophets that we have so recently read, all the times that they would say “In that day…” or talk about “the day of the Lord…”  The incarnation of Jesus, God putting on human flesh, it the very fulfillment of those words.

What we are seeing in Jesus’ ministry is an intentionally counter-cultural movement in which Jesus challenges all the norms that had been set up in the Jewish faith community, turns them on their head, and then demonstrates the true meaning of what is written about them in the Law.  Like we talked about yesterday, the purpose of the Law was not strictly moral living for its own sake and the message of the Law as not exclusion for the sake of “purity.”  Jesus challenges this directly in all that he does.  We see the lame, the sick, the blind, and the demon possessed all as outcasts in this society.  The lame and the blind are beggars, the sick are shunned for their impurity, but Jesus does what now Jewish person would even dream of… He touches them… and they are healed.  Here we see revealed to us the true mission of God’s people: healing and reconciliation.  Yes they were to be holy as God is holy, but not at the cost of loving their neighbor.  Not at the cost of caring for the poor.  They were given cleansing rituals to clean themselves when they went before God not so they could never use them because they didn’t associate with “unclean” persons.

I think Jesus makes this abundantly clear in chapter 9 when He is questioned as to why it is that He is eating with the “sinners and tax collectors.”

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

This really is contrary to everything that the religious leaders were teaching at the time.  They had set up the Law and the sacrificial system as an end to itself; moral living for the sake of moral living.  But that was never what the sacrificial system or the Law was about.  Israel was called to be a light to the nations, a place that people could come and encounter the love of God displayed through His people.  Yet that calling was twisted into something that was never meant to be, and Jesus challenges that in front of the very people that were being excluded.

I wonder if Jesus were to talk into our churches today if he would say the same thing.  Are we all about our programming?  Our preference of worship?  Our style of sermon?  The friend group we hang out with?  Do we welcome the “sinners and tax collectors” into our midst?  Or are we so focused on trying to do our own thing that we have lost sight of the true calling of the Body of Christ?  I wonder this about my own church as well… it is definitely food for thought this morning.



Day 280: Matthew 5-7; The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew is home to what many would consider the most popular Gospel passages of the four.  Apart from chapters 1 and possible 3 of John and the second chapter of Luke, the section of Matthew known as the Sermon on the mount is likely one of the most used passages of the Gospels.  The actual passages though, Matthew 5 – 7 are more likely a conglomeration of a majority of the teachings of Jesus brought together by Matthew.  Whether or not Jesus actually sat down and taught all of this in one sitting is indeed debatable, however that debate largely misses the point of what Jesus is teaching here.  As we look through this passage and look into the context in which He delivers this, or these messages, we see that Jesus is openly challenging much of the religious teaching of the day and showing the people the true intent of the Law and the many commandments that were given to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.

Many people have said that Jesus came to turn the Law on its head, to show the true way of God.  However, even Jesus Himself challenges that statement in chapter 5.  He says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

So, if Jesus isn’t challenging the Law, what is he challenging?  Well, this is where context comes in.  Over the course of the history of Israel, and especially after the time of the exile, the Jewish religious leaders developed a system of laws to help protect the Law, like putting a fence around your fence so that you can be doubly sure that no one gets into a forbidden yard.  In doing this, the Jewish religious leaders wanted to make extra sure that the people of God did not transgress the Law once again thus causing the Lord to pass Judgment upon them.  However, what this really did was place the emphasis on an impossible standard of moral living for its own sake rather than living a life of gratitude, honor, praise, and worship to God.  It is into this context and understanding of the Law that Jesus speaks, rehashing what God truly meant when the Law was given.

Does this remind you of anything?  For me is screams “SHEMA!!!”  Why do I say this?  Well… because as Jesus will point out in Matthew 22, this really is the essence of the Law and if we read it with the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Leveticus 19:18 in mind, the teachings of Jesus here make sense.  What we are called to is not a set of laws and regulations for moral living, but to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Jesus even mentions this in chapter 5:43-48 as well.  Out of these things flow naturally all that which Christ teaches about here and God calls us to in our everyday living.  The challenge is also given to us in the Church today.  For a very long time we have equated Christianity with knowing rightly and living rightly.  While these two are indeed important for the life of believers, they are not an end in themselves, but part of the natural overflow of the life of faith lived out in loving God and loving neighbor.  Indeed all of the law and prophets hang on those two commands.