praying with jesus

Kim Fabricus recently offered twelve ripostes for ‘militant atheists’, one of which was about prayer.

—Prayer plainly doesn’t work.
—Thank God! ((Garth Brooks had a similar insight: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”))

On a spectrum of immature to mature, understandings of Christian prayer will range from the anthropocentric and mechanistic ((not to mention idolatrous and pagan – I even hear pantheist types talk about putting thoughts ‘out there’ to the universe)) notion that prayer is about us invoking God to do something we want for our world, to the more theocentric and relational conviction that prayer is about God involving us in what God wants to do for God’s world.

On this note, I wanted to post an example of this I heard last night in the last Romans lecture at Carey Baptist.

There are three agents ‘groaning’ in Romans 8:18-27; a) creation groaning as with birth pangs, b) the church groaning awaiting redemption, and c) the Spirit groaning in intercession for us and the world.

The world is not as it should be (creation groaning).  God grieves that this is so (the Spirit groaning), and moves us to grief (church groaning) and action.

This parallels a scene from the Gospels.

Jesus’ groaning prayer in the Garden, overcome with grief.  The triune God involved in groaning prayer – the Son praying to the Father in the power of the Spirit.  Jesus’ words ‘not my will but Thy will’ reflects that his prayer is about the divine will for the world and Jesus’ human obedience to it.

And Jesus also had invited his disciples to ‘watch and pray’ with him.  As George Wieland said last night, “To pray is to keep Jesus company as he agonises in the garden.”

small verse – big theology

Matthew 1:1 – “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:”

A short verse.  The 16 words above (TNIV) translate only 8 Greek terms. ((Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβρααμ.))  It not only summarises the following genealogy (1:1-17), but hints at key themes of the whole gospel.

We are being prepared for much more than merely the family history of Jesus.  From verse one, the original hearers/readers of this gospel understood that this story was about Jesus, who is the ‘son of David’, the anointed long-awaited Davidic king, and a ‘son of Abraham’ par excellence, fulfilling (and thus redefining) what it meant to be a member of the people of God. ((cf. 3:9 – “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”))  This is a prelude to a genealogy which hints that genealogical ties to Abraham have become irrelevant. ((Of course, I hasten to add, not ‘irrelevant’ in the sense that nothing before Jesus at all matters.  The sharp discontinuity of the new does not do away with all continuity with the old.))

Correct me if I’m wrong, but that looks like Christology, Ecclesiology and Soteriology (and probably more than a dash of narrative theology) in one very small verse.

god is like… pt 2

For all of the supposed humility of negative theology (“We’re merely saying what God could not be like…”) or metaphor (“We’re only saying what God is like, not what God is…”), Christians make the audacious claim that we are right and all other religions are wrong… don’t we?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, on one hand. We do claim that Christianity is true and all other religions are false.  But not because we think that our beliefs are more reasonable (in the sense of us thinking more reasonably than others to work out what God is really like), but rather because we believe that God has actually revealed himself fully and finally in a startlingly particular (male, Jewish, bearded, 1st century prophet and rabbi from Nazareth) and shockingly embarrassing (mocked, criminalised, dying, suffering, and a failure of a Messiah) human being.  It’s not that we are ‘right’ in that we figured out who God was with all of our theology, but that God is revealed in Jesus.  We didn’t find truth about God – the Truth showed himself to us.  Get Jesus wrong and you get God wrong.

On the other hand, no. Believing that non-Christian religions are false is not the same as saying that everything they believe is wrong.  Sticking to the so-called ‘Abrahamic’ faiths for a moment, they all share a form of monotheism ((but not that Jesus-shaped variety of trinitarian monotheism, of course.)).  In polytheistic Hinduism, there is a recognition of Brahman as unknowable and transcendent ((though, not, of course, incarnate at the same time)).  Traditional Maori spirituality has the “parentless” ultimate creator, Io Matua Kore – similar to the notion of God as a First Cause (or uncaused cause – or unmoved mover, etc.).  In fact, any religion that has any concept of God at all has (in one sense) at least something in common with Christianity – namely (as broadly speaking as possible) that there is a spiritual dimension to reality.

Allow me to quickly refer to a passage of the Bible in which we see both this ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in tension.

Acts 17 tells of when Paul, himself having moved from a militant form of Judaism ((possibly of the ‘house of Shammai’?)) to Christian faith, went to Athens.  While waiting for some of his co-workers, he observed the pervasive worship of pagan/Greek gods/goddesses, and (as a good ‘atheistic’ monotheist should) was ‘provoked’ by what he saw.  People were interested in the new gods ((“Iesous/Jesus” & “Anastasis/Resurrection”)) they thought he was talking about with some of the Stoic & Epicurean philosophers, so they let him speak.

What he does not say is, “Well, you guys are members of false religions, and my religion is the truth.”  Instead, his response begins with points of agreement and works from there to the God revealed in Jesus.

“Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. For as I was walking around and looking closely at the objects you worship, I even found an altar with this written on it: ‘To the unknown god.’ So I am telling you about the unknown object you worship.”

He even draws upon their own pagan worship songs and poems to tell them about the God revealed in Jesus.

“For ‘in Him we live and move and have our being‘, as also certain of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.‘”

Lest it be thought that Paul only affirms their beliefs, he also critiques their pagan worship.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in shrines made by human hands, and he isn’t served by hands as if he needed anything. He himself gives everyone life, breath, and everything.”

And

“So if we are God’s children, we shouldn’t think that the divine being is like gold, silver, or stone, or is an image carved by human imagination and skill. Though God has overlooked those times of ignorance, he now commands everyone everywhere to repent, for he has set a day when he is going to judge the world with justice through a man he has appointed, and he has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

So, to sum up this longer-than-necessary post, for Christians believe that they ‘know’ ((not in the omniscient, list-of-facts sense, but in the relational sense)) the Truth about God, because they ‘know’ Jesus who is the Truth.  For the Christian, getting to know God equals getting to know Jesus, and you can start getting to know Him right where you are, as a pantheist, polytheist, pagan, Muslim, Jew, etc.

end of luke

I’ve the privilege of preaching the last passage in Luke (24:13-53) this Sunday night.  Wow.  What a passage!  Just for the hey of it, here’s a painting by Caravaggio called ‘The Incredulity of Thomas’, based on this and the other parallel gospel passages.  What a painting!

Note Jesus' hand guiding Thomas' own hand

silent word

On Luke 22:63 – 23:25:

After the failure of followers to follow (sleeping watchmen, a sell-out treasurer [Judas], and a crumbling Rock [Peter]), the pattern of doing the opposite of one’s vocation continues:

Guards, meant to protect the process of justice by ensuring that a subject makes it to trial, abuse, beat, blindfold and taunt Jesus. “Prophecy! Who struck you!?” These abusive protectors are the real blindfolded ones.

The Council, comprised of Chief priests, elders and Law ‘expert’ teachers, was meant to function as a truth-seeking, justice-preserving body. This trial, however, was over long before it began; they frame Jesus with their questions, get him to say what they wanted to hear, and charge him with blasphemy. This perversion of both truth and justice shows that they are the blasphemous ones.

The Roman governor Pilate and the Jewish King Herod were rulers and leaders of society – meant to protect order and promote peace. Instead, these leaders and rulers are led and ruled themselves. Pilate dodges responsibility and is eventually pressured against his will to have Jesus crucified. Herod, more interested in being entertained by a miracle, places kingly robes on Jesus and mocks him. The governor is governed, and the false King of the Jews mocks the true.

The militant and murderous revolutionary, Barabbas, is a condemned, crucifiable criminal. Jesus is leading a kingdom of peace, and is innocent. Bar-abbas, the ‘son of the Father(s)’, is released while another ‘Bar-Abba’ takes his place.

And in the middle of it all, fulfilling rather than contradicting his Vocation, is Jesus; the all-powerful Lord being revealed in weakness – the victorious King securing the victory through defeat – the Word made flesh speaking loudly in silence.

who is my neighbour?

In chapter 10 of his gospel (or not far into the Jerusalem journey narrative as he would have seen it – he didn’t divide his gospel into ‘chapter and verse’), Luke presents an exchange between an expert in the Law (of Moses – i.e. Torah) and Jesus.  The lawyer is first trying to ‘test’ Jesus, and uses a fairly standard question of the day to do so.

Both Matthew and Mark also record this question asked of Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I don’t want to bother with the whole discussion of what this question means and what it doesn’t mean (suffice to say that it does not mean ‘how moral must I be to get into heaven after I die’).  I’m more interested in how Jesus answers this “law expert”. Continue reading “who is my neighbour?”

ben on bart

“Holy rusted metal, BArT ehrMAN!”  (yes, I just typed that; many cheese-ness awards shall I win…) ;)

Respected (and prolific! given the rate he publishes blogs and books!) New Testament Scholar Ben Witherington III is doing an astoundingly in-depth review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘Jesus Interrupted’ (parts 1234 and 5) and see Ehrman being humorously interrupted – as many have been! – on the Colbert Report here).  I’ve only skimmed a couple of them (they’re quite long!), but I’ve seen enough to see that he’s done a patient and – very, very, VERY – thorough job.