Galatians 2 – Flippity Flop

Read Galatians 2

Paul spent a long time working toward acceptance within the Christian community, an understandable hurdle to overcome when one joins the side of those he or she has been persecuting.  This was somewhat complicated by the fact that Paul was also moving outside of the Jewish circles and preaching the Gospel to Gentiles.  This made the Jewish Christians somewhat uncomfortable which was also understandable given the generations of exclusion that had taken place.

There is really one thing that Paul is addressing here that he does so in two different forms.  First, there was a process of forgiveness, healing, and acceptance that the believers had to go through before they welcomed Paul into the community.  In that time, I’m sure questions were raised about his motivations and such, but ultimately that time had since passed and he had become not only a part of the believing community but a leader within it.

The other aspect of this is Paul’s ability to and right questioning of Cephas, also known as the Apostle Peter, in his interaction with the Gentiles.  It seems that Peter was working harder at “keeping up appearances” with the Jewish Christians and doing so was leading other believers astray.  As we read in 1 Corinthians, Paul is uniquely concerned that our actions do not damage the witness of the Gospel, and that is what is happening here.

Division or Unity?

All of this is to once again prove Paul’s authority as an Apostle.  Ultimately this Authority comes from God.  His calling on our lives, however, would also be confirmed by others in the Church and in leadership positions.  It would also be confirmed by Paul’s actions as a leader.  He has the responsibility to preach the Gospel and live His life in accordance with it, and to be held accountable when actions and words don’t line up as was the case with Peter.

Thinking about this and watching the continuing political coverage of the current election cycle makes me wonder what has happened to our political leaders.  They say one thing and do another, or just say different things all the time depending on who they are in front of.  How have we come to such a point?  How are they held accountable?  It is a lesson for those of us in the church, both leader and layperson alike.  We cannot flip-flop our message, our lifestyle, and our values to suit whomever we are with.

We cannot flip-flop our message, our lifestyle, and our values to suit whomever we are with.  Yes, there is freedom, but never should that freedom be used to lead others astray.  Rather, we use our freedom to love.

I wonder what the government would be like if it lived out the love, acceptance, equality, and unity that it so often claims and far too often wields like a weapon against the other party?



John 21 – Feed My Sheep

Read John 21

John records Peter’s denial of Jesus in chapter 18.  Unlike the other Gospels, though, Peter is not left in the miserable state that we leave him.  In fact, the interaction between Jesus and Peter after Jesus’ resurrection shows us the very nature of the restoration that takes place in our hearts and lives when we turn to (or back to) Christ.

It’s hard to imagine being in Peter’s place, knowing what he did and knowing that Jesus knew what he did.  I’m sure Peter felt a bit awkward here, unsure of what to say.  But Jesus doesn’t hesitate as all; they enjoy a meal together and Jesus wastes no time restoring He and Peter’s relationship.

The significance of the number of times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him cannot be understated.  While it may seem like an obvious thing, Peter’s triple denial coupled with His triple affirmation, the repetition is important as we have talked about.  Jesus, knowing of Peter’s guilt, not only reinstates Peter, restoring their relationship but shows him that He is still able, and in fact called to the ministry that Jesus Himself was about.  No greater image of trust can be seen than here, an image of the Master charging the one who denied Him with testifying to His Name once again.

Jesus also has a difficult word for Peter, a prophecy of the trials that Peter would face.  I wonder if Peter felt a bit overwhelmed as if his future was unfair, and so he asks about John, Jesus’ beloved disciple.  The response he receives is an important lesson for us: what others deal with in life, the paths they have to walk and why is not our business; what is important is that we remain faithful to God’s calling for our lives.



Matthew 16 – Bad Leaven

Read Matthew 16

This is, at least, the second time in Matthew that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day demand a “sign.”  Looking at this from our perspective, their request is ridiculous being that Jesus had been healing so many people.  Yet, just like the visit from John the Baptist’s disciples, who did not believe, these people too couldn’t believe what they have heard and seen.

We would like to think that we are not like them either, that if Jesus came in this way now, we would certainly recognize and follow Him.  Yet I wonder if this is indeed true.  I sometimes struggle with recognizing the work of God finding that when I hear someone way that “God told me to _____,” I am rather skeptical.  When I hear about miracle healings, I tend to want to see if for myself.  Maybe I need to trust more, or perhaps we get wrapped up in our own thoughts about God, who He is and what He does, that we are not willing to entertain things outside of that box.

The warning that Jesus gives after His encounter with the Pharisees is one that we too should heed.  Culture constantly seems to “demand signs” from us as Christians; people asking for proof that what we believe is valid or accurate.  The danger in these requests lies in the doubt they cast when we don’t have an answer other than faith.

Matthew answers the questions and the doubt with an illustration.  Jesus asks His disciples who they believe He is.  Peter’s answer, one of true faith in the Messiah, is one whom Israel had been waiting for.  Jesus’ response is one spoken to all those who believe; their faith is the foundation against which all the forces of evil cannot and will not prevail.



Day 359: 2 John, 3 John, and Jude; The Final Epistles

Each of the last three Epistles that we read today has a bit of a different theme.  The two epistles that are credited to John are written by the same person that wrote the first epistle of John, and then there is Jude.  Some think that Jude, who claims to be the brother of James, who would have been the half brother of Jesus and perhaps the same James that wrote the book of James.  It is also possible that Jude was Judas, who is mentioned in Luke 6:16 as one of the disciples of Jesus who was the “son of James.”  This is not Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, but the lesser known Judas who was also a disciple of Jesus.

2 John:

The main theme of 2 John revolves around relationships with one another. John, drawing from Jesus teachings in the Gospel of John, talks about loving one another and loving God.  He points out that this isn’t a new commandment that is being given, but simply an extension of what they already know and believe.  John records Jesus’ talking about love in John 15, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  What is love?  Loving God is walking according to His commandments for our lives.  What is God’s commandment for our lives?  Remember… Shema!!  We are called to love God and love our neighbor!  This is really what it all boils down to, this is what Jesus teaches, and as believers this is what we are called to.

To go along with this, John talks about being aware of false teachers.  I think it is interesting that he says that those that come to them without “this teaching” which has to do with loving by following God, should be rejected by them.  Could it really be that easy?  Could it be that we have a Church have maybe made the whole message of God, the incarnation of Christ, and all of our theology and doctrine into a much more complicated message than it needs to be?  Could it be that, as John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John writes at another point, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  All of this is revolving around the same thing, the love of God for us and our love for Him!

3 John:

John’s third letter was written in much the same manner as his second letter.  Keeping in mind that John’s writings are always revolving around the same themes.  Here he is talking about how the faith community should be accepting outsiders.  In these days it was likely that there were many people that were coming in and out of the communities as they traveled around.  It was also likely that there were some that would have tried to take advantage of that in many different ways.  If these folks are anything like I am, or perhaps we are today, we tend to be wary of those who come as new folks in our communities.  Often times we tend to act nice but ask questions that are “tests” to make sure they will fit in with us.  John says that we should be accepting of those that come into our communities especially for those that are travelers.  In what we do and how we treat them, the name of Jesus will be spread for the better or the worse.  Of course there will be those that are bad, evil, wrong-doers and they could damage the community, yet if we are showing love to them and love to each other they will either have nothing bad to say about us, or be won over by the love of Christ.  Friends, we should aspire to this at all times.

Jude:

Finally, we come to the book of Jude.  In many ways, the book of Jude is a review of what we have already read in 2 Peter chapter 2.  Many people believe that the second chapter of second Peter was actually an adaptation of the letter that Jude wrote.  I suppose it could be the other way around, but based on the writing style, it seems as those Jude was rushed while Peter elaborates on what Jude said.  As we transition into the last book of the Bible, and begin to see a greater perspective of the “false teachers” in the world and the greater battle between God and evil, the words of Jude ring loud and clear.  There are many people in the world that are lost in lives of sin, giving themselves over to the desires of the flesh.  Sadly, there are many who would even be considered leaders in that, guiding others into a life of sin.  As was mentioned in 2 Peter, we need to be careful not only of those people, but of those from within the Church that preach a Gospel other than of Jesus Christ crucified.

Jude writes to conclude his letter, “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.22 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”  (arguably this is the greatest doxology in the Bible).



Day 358: 1 John 1-5; That You May Know

As we come to the final epistles of the New Testament, we take a look at the letters that are attributed to the Apostle John.  Once again, it is not entirely known as to whether or not it was indeed the Apostle John, the writer of the Gospel of John, that wrote these letters, or if it was someone within the Johannine community, probably one of John’s disciples, that was writing to those that were in the “Johannine ” churches.  In similar fashion to our denominations today, the churches of the first century had some distinctive features that made them different from each other.  Churches that were started by John may have looked a little different than those that were started by Paul.  It wasn’t as if anything was wrong with one or the other, but it was likely that their worship styles were different and perhaps even some of the teaching emphasis was different as well.  John even makes mention of some of these differences in his first letter here, saying that some of the teachings of Paul were difficult to understand.  It could be that that Johannine churches were composed more of poor and uneducated people rather than of more educated, potentially upper class people that might have made up some of the more Pauline churches.  This would make sense, in some ways, as John himself was a fisherman by trade, where Paul was a religious leader and a Roman citizen.  Fishermen tended to be poorer, where the religious leaders often came from families that were religious leaders and were fairly well off.  In this sense, Paul talks in more of a “high church theology” where John is relating to “less educated” community.

Remember, when we were in the Gospel of John, that His writing was quite simple in nature, not using a lot of difficult grammar, large words, or grand theological concepts.  He does, however write in a way that can be understood easily on the surface but also can be deep and theologically rich.  John is a master of words.

Remember too, in the Gospel of John, that John the Apostle does a great deal of playing with themes, especially with the theme of light and darkness.  It is this theme, in fact, that makes the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which will happen tomorrow (at the time of this writing), when the light entered into the world, a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome.  It is one of the first themes that John brings up here in his letter as well.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Again, remember that John’s Gospel, as well as the letters attributed to John, deal with some specific heresies that had arisen in the church.  Like Peter and Paul, John is encouraging the members of his community, and of the churches throughout the world to keep the faith, to hold fast to the Word of God and not listen to these false teachers.  One of the main heresies that he is teaching against is that of Gnosticism, a group of people that had very different beliefs about the work of Jesus, the nature of the psychical and the spiritual, and the notion that there was some sort of “special knowledge” that people needed to be saved, something that was found in places other that Scripture.  John is writing so that his readers, the believers in his communities and in the church would know Jesus is truly the savior and that there isn’t anything special that they have to do.  John 20 gives an end to the Gospel that gives an explanation to this effect.  All we need is Christ, to believe in His name, and in that we will have life, true life in Him.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John concludes this letter in much the same manner:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.



Day 356: 1 Peter 1-5; Courage in the Midst of Suffering

As we continue in our reading, we come to the books of first and second Peter.  Tradition holds that it was the Apostle Peter that wrote these two books, probably while he was in Rome.  Whether or not this is true, I guess, is besides the point.  Reading today you’ve probably picked up on a common theme that has been prominent, especially in the latter letters of Paul and these general letters that have gone out to the whole church.  As the Church continued to grow and spread out throughout the Roman Empire, it continued to face a great deal of persecution and struggle.  The Roman government acknowledged the Church as a sect of Judaism, something that was not necessarily beneficial to Christians.  The Jews has often been hostile to Roman rule, which caused many believers to be persecuted on behalf of the Jews.  More than that, the Jews themselves obviously didn’t accept the Christians as well, thus causing more persecution.  Many believers lost all that they had, their homes, businesses and any sort of ability to sustain a living for themselves and their families, all because they professed faith in Christ.  The further on we go in the first century, the more this becomes prevalent.

Peter, or the writer of First Peter, knew this and was writing into this very issue.  The Church had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire; this letter is addressed to the churches throughout what is no known as Turkey.  Peter also addresses this letter “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  He could mean a number of things here.  Returning once again to Dr. Robert VanVoorst’s book Reading the New Testament Today, VanVoorst writes that Peter could be referring to “spiritual exiles” in that all believers are spiritually exiled from the fully realized kingdom of God and reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.  Another reason could be an implication that the writer was looking to target a Jewish audience as well, using words like “exile” and “dispersion” which show up in the Old Testament a great deal.  In any case, it is clear that Peter is writing to many churches during a time of increased persecution.

One of the main points that Peter is making in this letter actually speaks directly into this time of trial and struggle and in many ways echoes the book of James.  Peter is imploring the believing community that they are called to live lives of faith and to testify to Christ Jesus, even if it brings them troubles in this life.  From the very beginning, Peter talks about the salvation that we receive in Christ Jesus, and continues by saying “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

It may be easier in life to acknowledge faith in church and even in our speech with other Christians, yet hiding it from the rest of the world so as to not face persecution.  However, this is not the way that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  In my discipleship class this year we have talked at great length about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what that looks like in our lives and in the lives of the church.  Ultimately this is lived out in the calling that we have had since the beginning, To Love God and To Love Neighbor.  This is the greatest commandment that Jesus testifies to and that even Israel was called to.  This calling has two aspects, an inward action to love God and to love neighbor, and an outward action to show the love of God in our lives and to do that towards our neighbor.  Faith and Christian discipleship are not something to be lived out only in the Church building on Sunday mornings, they are things that are to be lived out EVERYDAY, they are the out flowing of what happens on Sunday morning.

What does this look like?  Peter addresses this by saying that it looks, first and foremost, like having Christ as the cornerstone of our  lives.  It also shows up in our submission to authority and respect of it in the world (whether we agree with it or not).  It shows up in how we love and treat our family, with love and respect.  It shows up in our vocations, even if it leads to suffering or persecution (a word I use in the lightest of senses because Christians in North America do not truly know what it means to be persecuted to the point of imprisonment and death).  It also shows up in our we interact with other Christians as well, which brings us back around to the notion of discipleship.  Peter exhorts the “elders” among them to be good shepherds of the flock, something that we often loose in our churches today.  Older folks do not feel that they can relate to the younger generations, or that the young have any desire to listen to them, but they do and the church is in desperate need of people that are solid in their faith to come alongside the young and immature so that they can be built up into Christ.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.



Day 318: Acts 3-4; What We Have Seen and Heard

So the Church has begun to grow and the Spirit of the Lord is alive, active, and moving throughout the believers and the Apostles as they preach the Gospel and heal.  The first narrative that we read today is so very interesting.  I have to wonder what Peter and John were thinking, or if they were even thinking when they encountered this lame man.  How did the Spirit work through them?  Or did it just come to them and they went for it, like calling an audible on offense or something.  When I read this I envision two men walking through the Temple gate with their eyes set on where they were going until they were distracted by the faint, distant voice of a man asking for money.  This voice is not distant because of any physical distance, but because of their focus on the task at hand, yet suddenly it is very near and very real.  They stop, turn, and look directly at the broken man.  Without missing a beat Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  He grabs the man by the hand a pulls him up.  I wonder if there was some interaction here, or if they just turned and went on their way like it was nothing.  I wonder if they invited the man to go with them or if he just followed them because he was so excited.  In any case, what we are seeing here is only the beginning of the Church’s continuation of bringing the wholeness, healing, forgiveness of Jesus, the very elements of the Kingdom of Heaven into reality here on earth.

From there, as they walk into the Temple, all the people see the beggar and are in aw of his ability to walk.  Peter is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as we get the second sermon preached by Peter in as many chapters:

Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Because of what happened the religious leaders arrested Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man, however we read that because of what had happened and the testimony of Peter almost 5,000 people became believers!  I think that this is so crazy to us, sometimes it doesn’t even compute!  Do we expect that when we hear the Word of God on a Sunday morning that people are going to become believers?  Somehow I think that we would claim to hope that this would happen, even though we don’t expect that it will…

In any case, the next day the religious leaders question Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man and Peter once again is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks to them in such a way that they cannot find any fault.  This whole scene has a lot of echoes back to the questioning of Jesus, except this time the people are all for Peter and John, not against them as they were against Jesus.  The religious leaders find themselves in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable predicament.

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

When it comes down to it, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are both witnessing to what they have seen, heard, and experienced in their lives.  While they have the wonderful pleasure of seeing it unfold before them, it is the boldness for the faith and the work of the Holy Spirit that is speaking through them.  Friends, this is the same Holy Spirit that has been placed in our hearts as well.  I am speaking from a purely North American context, but we don’t speak with half the amount of conviction or faith that Peter and John speak and we have experienced the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus in very much the same way.  More than this though, we don’t have any fear of reprisal here… NONE whatsoever.  We are free to preach, to speak, to testify to the faith that has been given us!  We can tell people what we have seen, heard, and experienced as well and we do so with such timidity…  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us!  We have experienced Jesus’ saving grace!  We are given the opportunity to speak each and every day to those around us!  Brothers and Sisters testify to the grace of Christ!  Fear not for God is with you!



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 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 160: Psalms 35-37; Wisdom Psalms

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

In this time of open houses and life transitions, this words can have a much larger impact on the hearer than perhaps would normally be the case.  These words come from Psalm 37, a “wisdom Psalm” that speaks very clearly about the benefits of placing our trust in the Lord.  The whole Psalm is filled with these phrases, urging the reader to place their trust in God almighty.  This particular phrase is also found in the book of Proverbs, and actually describes a very particular way to view the world and our place in it.

Psalm 37:5 Commit your way to the Lord Photo Credit: www.baptistmissionarywomen.blogspot.com

Psalm 37:5
Commit your way to the Lord
Photo Credit: www.baptistmissionarywomen.blogspot.com

The word ‘commit’ comes from the Hebrew word גֹּול which is pronounced “goal” which means literally to roll out something.  What are we rolling?  Well the word we use is ‘way’ which comes from the Hebrew word  דַּרְכֶּךָ, pronounced “derekch, which means the path of you.  Where are we rolling it?  עַל־יְהוָה which means ‘on to the Lord.  So literally this phrase reads: ‘roll the path of you on to the Lord.’  This reveals and describes the way in which the Hebrew people viewed the path of their lives.  Remember, several weeks ago we talked about how the Hebrew people “walked backwards into the future?”  Well, this too reveals a style of life in which the people of God are constantly rolling out the path of their life.  As the phrase reads, we are rolling the path of our lives “on to the Lord.”  Where does this place God?

Under us.
Holding up the path of our lives.
Guiding where it is going to go next.
Sustaining us and providing the way for us to go.

The second phrase in this verse reads וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶֽׂה in Hebrew.  Literally translated, this would read ‘and trust on Him and He will do it.‘  This is basically saying the same thing: if we place our trust on the Lord, the one on whom we are rolling out the path of our life, then He will do all the things that were just said!  In many ways, this is a complete response to the Hebrew shema as well!

If we look at this from a life position, it would be us kneeling down, rolling out the path of our life on to the Lord.  We are continually keeping our eyes and our focus on the Lord and trusting in him.  In doing this, we believe that He will show us the way in which we are to roll our lives out.  This kind of reminds me of the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water.  Peter walked on the water as long as he was looking at Jesus and trusting in him, but as soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus he began to sink.  Like Peter, we need to keep our eyes focus on the Lord as we walk through life, making sure that what we are doing is indeed rolling the path of our lives out on to the Lord!

PSALM 35 is a Imprecatory Psalm of Lament written by David.  This is a Psalm of ups and downs, but ultimately shows David’s willingness to trust in the Lord and rejoice in the Lord through all of the hard times.  David prays for vindication from his enemies, but at the same time also rejoices with those that support him.

PSALM 36 is a Psalm of Thanksgiving that also has some didactic qualities.  There is an air of Lament found in this Psalm as well.  But like most of these type of Psalms, there is much to say about the love of God and his great works.

PSALM 37 is a Psalm of Wisdom meaning that it Guides us to the path of righteousness and shows us how to seek God’s will and direction.  Naturally, a Psalm like this also has many didactic qualities as well.  Ultimately this Psalm is imploring the reader and the hearer to commit to the way of the Lord and to reap the benefits, rewards and blessings that come from such a commitment.  This Psalm is also an acrostic, written by David.

Psalm 37:5 Commit Your Way to the Lord Photo Credit: www.dailylifeverse.com

Psalm 37:5
Commit Your Way to the Lord
Photo Credit: www.dailylifeverse.com