Matthew 28 – Sabbath & Re-Creation

Read Matthew 28

The Sabbath day is one of the most significant days in Jewish life.  Apart from humanity being the crown of creation, the significance of the Sabbath is the first declaration in Genesis 2.  Today I am struck by the fact that Jesus’ full day in the tomb is the Sabbath day, the day of rest.

In Hebrews 10, the author makes this connection between the work accomplished by Christ.  His once for all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world ushers believers into a “sabbath rest,” the reality that we no longer have to do ritual sacrifices to gain forgiveness.  Instead, we rest in the assurance of faith in Jesus Christ and that we are heirs of eternal life.

It is no coincidence then, that Jesus resurrection happens on the first day of the week then, the same day that God begins work on creation, the day that New Life is sealed in Christ’s defeat of death itself.  The work of God in creating the world and the work of Christ is redeeming it, bringing new life out of death are intimately related, and the theme of Sabbath flows through both.

Too often we subscribe to the idea that we have to do a lot of work for ourselves to earn a place in God’s Kingdom, to repay Him for what He did for us.  We Christians set up laws for ourselves, never saying that we have to earn salvation, but often implying it.  Certainly we are called to live out our faith, fulfilling the great commission to make disciples, but we do this out of grateful obedience, not to earn our salvation.  When we act as though we need to earn the grace we are given, we unknowingly diminish the power and work of Jesus on the cross.

Day 334: 1 Corinthians 14-16; The Resurrection

After talking a great deal about the content and happenings of corporate worship, Paul then turns to the many different people that are present within those worship service.  Much of what he has to say in chapter 15 of today’s reading is very applicable for today’s church goers.  There will always be people that come to church that don’t believe; those who come because its what they did as kids, because their parents are making them, or people that go because it is the thing to do in particular social circles.  Here Paul speaks both to believers and non-believers alike, a sort of “Gospel reprise” as it were.

The first thing that I noticed when I read this was that Paul was indeed talking about believing the Word of God and also what it means to “believe in vain.”  These are folks that are not holding to the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul had originally presented to them.  I’m sure that every church in the history of the Church has had people like this in their midst.  What Paul is saying here is that there are people like this in our midst.  What Paul isn’t saying here it is our job to seek them out, hunt them down, and expel them from our churches.  In fact, he doesn’t say anything about that right here, not like he did earlier when we was addressing the issues of the church in the first half of this letter.  Remember, as he is challenging the church in Corinth about some of the things that they are allowing to happen within their midst, he clearly points out the need for church discipline and even the removal of certain people.  This is not the case here.

It happens often in churches that we conduct our own type of “witch hunt” for those that aren’t believing quite the way we are, or “worse yet” aren’t getting involved in different things within the community of faith.  But this isn’t what Paul is calling the church towards in his addressing the church in Corinth.  In fact he doesn’t say anything about it here.  We cannot take on the Spirit’s role of working in the hearts those that God has called to that particular place of worship.  Like when we talk about election and not truly knowing who is elect and who is not, so too should we not question the hearts of those who are gathered to worship but rather continue constantly to preach and teach the Gospel in order to encourage all those into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to talk about the Resurrection, both Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of our bodies when Jesus comes again.  There is really little that we know about the nature of the second coming except that it is going to happen and that it will be when Jesus physically returns to this earth.  We also know here what Paul teaches about the resurrection of our bodies.  He talks about the resurrection in terms of planting and gardening metaphor.  One cannot truly imagine what a plant will look like until the seed is planting.  We cannot look at a seed and know the exact shape and size of it, but we know that it is going to grow up into something that is greater than the seed it came from.  So too will we be transformed.  Our physical bodies in this life are like a seed and what we will be in the resurrection will be so much greater.  I think that we like to spend a great deal of time talking about what we think this will actually be like, which is not bad.  We may even disagree with friends or brothers and sisters from other denominational backgrounds.  However, what is important here and what Paul makes clear without actually saying it, is that the fact that it is going to happen is certain, and really that is the hope that we hold to.  In Christ Jesus we have received grace, salvation from our sins and the promise of eternal life.  This is the hope of all humanity, and the hope to which we attest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Day 323: Acts 17-19; Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Today we continue the story of Paul’s second missionary journey throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia.  We read, though I didn’t necessarily talk about, Paul’s first journey yesterday and pick up on his second journey after the first Jerusalem Council in chapter 15.  Now we see Paul’s journeys throughout the region and how he is able to, with the Holy Spirit as his guide, raise up believers and start church in many of these different cities.  Paul, with his partner Silas, journey to Antioch, Tarsus, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus before returning back to Caesarea and finally Jerusalem.  This is a major journey for this day and age, spanning about 2,000 miles and probably taking roughly four years.  There are a lot of things that happen here, many of which you can read for yourself today.  What I think is important to point out is how Paul raises up churches and people to lead those churches.

We don’t necessarily see how Paul does his discipleship program in each of these cities.  He doesn’t record for us how exactly he raises up leaders, but one of the important things that we see here as we journey with Paul and Silas is that it becomes very clear that Paul isn’t sticking around in these places much longer than he has to before he moves on to the next city.  Sure, we read in most of the New Testament that he continues to keep correspondence with these churches, he even visits them once and a while, especially if there are some points of doctrine and belief that he feels need addressing, but really when it comes down to it, Paul and Silas are working to raise up Christian leaders in these cities so that the churches can continue to function and grow while they move on to another city to spread the Gospel there as well.

It is interesting also that there is really no cookie cutter type church that Paul sets up.  He doesn’t go in with exactly the same message that He preached in the last city because it worked.  Have you ever experienced that?  Every now and then we have a pastor visit the church that preaches a message that was probably great somewhere in a certain context, but when it enters into another pulpit/church context, it doesn’t make any sense.  It is clear that Paul knows this.  The most pointed example here is Paul’s address to the Greek’s in Athens.

When Paul was in Athens, we see that He is “provoked” in his spirit because of all the idols.  Athens as a place full of idols to the pantheon of gods that the Greeks worshiped.  More than this though, Athens was a place of philosophy, bringing forth Plato and Aristotle, some of the greatest thinkers of the day.  Philosophy and Logic became almost a culture, or probably more of a subculture within the Greek people, and Paul takes full advantage of this peaking the curiosity of many of the philosophers there.  When he comes before them in the Areopagus, which was probably an amphitheater of some sort where people spoke, he doesn’t bring to them a sermon directed at the Jews, or something that would only make sense in Rome, understanding their customs and history Paul brings before them a sermon that is based both on logic, drawing even from some of their own philosophers, but also on their own worship practices.  In this He both draws them in and draws them to Jesus in a way that they understand and relate to.

I think that we see in here some of the ‘tactics’ of Paul and Silas as well, as the go around on all their missionary journeys.  They bring the good news of the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they speak in the ‘language,’ within the cultural understanding of those that they are encountering.  There is no cookie-cutter church, no one way to worship God, except in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yet even this gives a very wide latitude to all that can take place, and I think that is the key.  As these new churches are springing up all across the Roman Empire, we are seeing that same freedom that we have found in Christ also being present in the worship of the believers and as such, these places can live and thrive within the different cultural contexts that they find themselves.

Day 311: John 10-11; I AM The Resurrection and the Life

As we continue on the journey of Jesus in the Gospel of John, we come today to the end of the “book of signs” that we talked about a couple days ago at the beginning of John.  The first half of this book ends at the climax of Jesus’ miracles, raising Lazarus from the dead in an awesome and unbelievable miracle!  This is also the point at which the religious leaders decide that they are going to kill Jesus somehow… some way… they need to get rid of Jesus if they are to maintain their role as leaders.  But lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

In chapter 10 we see yet another exclamation of Jesus’ “I AM” or “ἐγώ εἰμί status.  Jesus is talking about the people of Israel as being sheep; an apt description of a people that have proven themselves to both be idle followers of whoever is willing to lead them and remarkably dense when it comes to the quality of their leadership.  In this discussion, Jesus is also talking about the leadership of the people over the past years.  Sheep always need a shepherd, someone to lead and protect them lest they wander freely.  The problem in the past has been that too often the leadership that they have had, other nations and gods have indeed led them into the wilderness and really just left them there.  What Jesus is saying is that HE is the GOOD Shepherd.  Remember back to Luke 18 or Mark 10, someone calls Jesus a “good teacher” and Jesus responds saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Now, Jesus is calling Himself the GOOD Shepherd, making the point in both the I AM statement and the used of the word GOOD, that He is God and He is their leader; that God that has always been their head.  Not only He their leader, He is also their “Gate.”  Not only is He their leader and their protection, He is also the way in which they enter into that status.  No one can climb over the wall, there is no back door into being one of the people of God; as Jesus will point out later, He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.  John also makes some clear connections here to the parable of the lost sheep and the deep truths of Psalm 23.

We then see Jesus in a discourse about His unity with the Father.  It is ironic, I think, that this comes at the end of the book of signs.  Jesus has done amazing miracles to the wonder and astonishment of many, and yet the people still ask Him to tell them plainly whether or not He is the Christ.  He responds to their request as says, “I have told you but you did not believe me.”  It’s interesting isn’t it?  How often we are like these people as well.  So much has happened in our lives, things that have taken place that are undeniably acts of God, and yet we still want to just be told plainly whether or not God is real or present.  Jesus then lays it out for them again… and they still don’t believe Him.  He really cannot be anymore clear about who He is and His relationship to God the Father, and they still try to kill Him for it.  How often do we do this as well?  The evidence is so clearly laid out before us, and yet we still choose to do things our own way…

Finally, the climax of the book of signs: the resurrection of Lazarus.  One of the clear signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God has to do with the resurrection of the dead.  This was something that had never been done before and it was something that could only be attributed to God for it was God who created life and therefore only God who could bring back to life.  For Jesus to do this was to indeed claim the place of God, showing that He indeed had power over death itself.  Not only this though, Jesus makes this wild claim that HE is the Resurrection and the Life.  Again, using the “I AM” or “ἐγώ εἰμί statement, Jesus places Himself as God.  He is the “I AM” the very center of being… This claim is abundantly amazing really… Jesus does not simply claim to be the “resurrection,” bringing people back from the dead, He also claims to be the source of life from the beginning.  Think back to John 1, Jesus is living into and claiming this status as being “The Word” that was in the beginning.  Only after this audacious claim does Jesus then show everyone the Truth of it by raising Lazarus from the dead.  It is this that sets events in motion that lead to Jesus eventual arrest, death and ultimately the reality that The Resurrection and The Life is indeed resurrected.

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 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 109: 2 Kings 12-14; Joash, Jehoash, Jehoahaz, Jeroboam II, and Amaziah

I was trying to come up with some sort of a witty name for today’s reading as it is much more of the same stuff that we have been reading, but I failed in my efforts.  So, today is simply more narratives about the kings of Israel and Judah.  Some of these kings are good, and others are not so good…

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the so...

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the son and successor of Joash. Русский: Амасия — царь Иудеи (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joash, king of Judah, we read, does good in the eyes of the Lord.  He seeks to repair the temple of the Lord.  Yet he doesn’t turn completely to the Lord and tear down the high places and stuff.  The same goes for Amaziah, the son of Joash, king of Judah.  Both were relatively good kings, but not so much so that they follow God completely.  There is a segment in the narrative of Amaziah in which we see him adhering to the law, not taking revenge on the sons of those who killed his father which is another example of how they followed the Lord and sought to do what was good in His eyes.  God’s response to this is to bless them, for the most part, and grant them victory of their enemies and peace for a majority of their reigns.

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel...

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel and the son of Jehu (2 Kings 10:35). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In sharp contrast to this, the kings of Israel are not so great.  Jehoahaz, Jehoash, and Jeroboam II, were all wicked kings in the sight of the Lord.  They are all the decedents of Jehu, which we read yesterday were promised to reign on the throne for a total of four generations because of the work that Jehu did for the Lord.  There is a bit of a bright side to these kings in that at times they seek after the Lord and the Lord grants them favor through victories and the like.  Ultimately, we read that God doesn’t wipe out Israel on account of the evil of any of these kings because of His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I find the reference of these particular people to be quite interesting because it skips past more recent “versions” of the covenant with David and with Moses at Sinai, and references the original covenant that was put in place.  While I don’t know if it is abundantly relevant in this passage, it is a unique diversion from the norm of talking about the covenant and the promise in general and not necessarily naming names.

Another thing of importance in this story is the death of Elisha.  Though it comes with quite a bit less pomp and circumstance than that of his master Elijah, none the less, even this great prophet succumbs to mortality.  Yet even in death, it seems, God’s work through Elisha wasn’t quite finished.  There is a brief narrative of a dead man touching the bones of Elisha and being instantly revived.  You might be thinking, “great, another miracle from a prophet…” but I think there is something a bit deeper in this.  Remember back to the “holiness codes” when we talked about how people were not allowed to touch the dead lest they become unclean.  An event like this seems to call a Law like that into question in some ways.  Interestingly, as prophet who serves as the mouthpiece of God in that time and place, calling people to repentance and speaking for God (sometimes we refer to them as heralds of the Kingdom), acts even in death in a way contrary to the world of sin and death in which he lived.  We see here once again a dramatic foreshadowing of death bringing life in a very little way.  Without discounting the narrative at hand, anytime we see someone raised to life we ought to keep in the back of our minds the resurrection of Jesus!

P.S.  Did you notice the brief mention of Jonah here?  It is the only other place in the Old Testament where Jonah is mentioned outside of the book that bears his name.