I just love this stuff…
Continue reading “brian walsh: targum of Romans 1:1-17”
I just love this stuff…
I just love this stuff…
Continue reading “brian walsh: targum of Romans 1:1-17”
Before Jesus, the Jewish ideas of God were certainly stable, no doubt (creator, redeemer, etc.), but –importantly– they weren’t so fixed that there was no breathing room. At any rate, after Jesus, the New Testament writers could not write about God without mentioning Jesus in the same breath. Any complete picture of God, Tom Wright says, would now have to have Jesus right in the middle of it…
The theological question, ‘Is/was Jesus God?’ is, of course, not a simple one, and Wright wisely answers the question with a very necessary clarifier – ‘That depends on which God you mean.’ Continue reading “the god that became jesus”
What does Jesus ‘mean’ to you?
Most responses would not be too likely to stray too far from the very familiar bible verse, John 3:16. We don’t often recognise Jesus as being much more than someone who died for ‘me.’ To be absolutely certain, Jesus most assuredly did die for ‘me‘, but I think it it vital that we push through this individualism and realise that He is also so much more than that! Not only is He Lord of my heart, He is also Lord of the entire universe.
The Gospel-writers wanted to direct their audience to the true Jesus. The Jesus that the Holy Spirit had been (and still was) opening and renewing their minds to see more clearly. Not just a one-sided, prop-up Jesus, to give the intellectual nod to, and/or give a nice, warm and fuzzy hug. Instead they wanted them to see a full-fledged, exasperating Jesus, to worship, adore and serve – indeed, to die for.
This, I think, is why the Gospel-writers didn’t simply provide us with a handful of happy texts telling us only that God loves us (or a list of texts about how to discover the secret Jesus, as in the later-written Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas). Instead, they wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Instead of giving a list of things to believe about Jesus, or whatever, they wrote stories – indeed, true stories. These stories – in very different, yet complimentary ways – have much more to say about Jesus than simply that he died for ‘me.’
Instead, the Gospel-writers drew upon the rich story of their people (Israel), and presented Jesus as the centre, the theme, the end, the solution, the climax – even the very point! – of this story. In other words, for the Gospel-writers, all who Jesus was/is and all that He accomplished had eclipsed and surpassed the meaning of the entire story of Israel!
For example, everything that the Temple had ever meant or stood for, was trumped by Jesus. The author of Matthew records Jesus declaring that He was ‘greater than the temple.’ (12:6) John’s Gospel tells it more explicitly, “Jesus… said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…’ …but He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this…” (2:19-22)
The New Testament way of speaking about this ‘trumping of meaning’ is called ‘fulfilling.’ This is one area in which I think we may need to re-evaluate our thinking. I think the writers of the New Testament saw Jesus as ‘ful-filling’ the meaning of not just a few ‘proof’ verses here and there, but the Old Testament as a whole! I think He means that much!
Take Isaiah’s Suffering Servant imagery in chapter 53, for example. We often reduce the entire passage down to a few verses, but the image of the Suffering Servant is not just in a few verses in this chapter. It is a broader, much larger image (beginning in ch. 42), thought by many to represent the entire nation of Israel itself, or a specific leader at the time. With our limited perspective, we may not know what each and every verse meant at the time, but I suspect the writer knew. I’ve heard people say that Jesus must have been un-attractive based on the verse that says, ‘there is no beauty that we should desire Him‘. I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is this: The Gospel writers saw Jesus as ‘trumping’ the meaning of the Suffering Servant. Every single scrap of meaning that the Servant imagery had, is even more fully realised in Jesus. He is the personification of Suffering, and the personification of Service. Indeed, the word became flesh!
What I’m suggesting is that Jesus doesn’t merely ‘fulfill’ a verse here and there, but rather He embodies the entire story of Israel. Every holy place (temple, Jerusalem, etc.), every role (prophet, priest, king), every event (passover, sabbath, etc.) and every other symbol (covenant, manna, law) finds its substance in Him! He is the Tabernacle, the Sacrfice, the High Priest, the Passover, the Sabbath, the Law, the Covenant, the King, the Prophet, the Warrior, the Slave, the Lamb, the Messiah, the True Israelite, the Son of Man, and so on… (The writer of Hebrews moves from symbol to symbol in similar fashion, yet in meticulous detail.)
May we see Jesus for all that He is. May we see Him as so much more (and no less!) than our personal, individual Jesus. May we see Him as some-One to live and die for.
The idea of ‘good news’ was certainly not just a Roman thing, however. The Jewish prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries ago about ‘good tidings’ for the poor, etc. (ch. 52 & 61 and other places). In fact, when Isaiah was translated into Greek (in the Septuagint), they used the same word (‘euangelion‘) in these places! Indeed, the word ‘gospel’ had a very different usage when the New Testament was written!
Believing the ‘Gospel’ in the first century came complete with side-effects, and it wasn’t simply that you belonged to a club that you didn’t before. If it was the Gospel of Caesar, the side-effect was that you would swear allegiance to him as Lord – lived out by paying taxes and obedience to the Roman system. Whether you were an orator, civic benefactor, patron, client, land-owner, peasant or slave, obedience meant knowing your place and not rocking the boat.
With the coming of Jesus, the word Gospel took on new meaning – as did the side-effects that went with believing it. For Jews, believing the Gospel of Jesus meant that the ‘good news’ of Isaiah had never been announced like it had been with Jesus. In the Roman world, however, believing the Gospel of Jesus was hazardous for your health! Believing that Jesus was Lord meant believing that Caesar was not! It meant believing that the ‘good news’ of Jesus made the ‘good news’ of Rome look like a cheap scam. It meant no longer living according to a system which really only served an elite few at the top, but rather living according to the character of a Lord, who is nothing at all like Caesar.
What in the world does this mean for us today? Possibly more than we care to know. I think it means that the Gospel of Jesus has little to do with an invitation that I accept (as if it were about ‘me’), and everything to do with an announcement that is true. Jesus really IS Lord. My life needs to give voice to that, and simply saying so won’t do. Simply associating with others that say so (or not associating with those that don’t) won’t do either. Our spending habits, dreams (‘American’ or otherwise), time, money, standard of living, and much more – they all must bow the knee to the fact that Jesus is Lord. Announcing this is our calling. It will definitely require our words, but equally (or more) so, it will require our lives.
The prophet of all prophets, Jesus, had a message that was… well… to say the least… uncomfortable for many of his day. Exactly as James would describe God later, Jesus ‘opposed the proud’ and gave ‘grace to the humble.’
Jesus was well aware that prophets weren’t usually ‘popular’ people. His own home crowd rejected him and when he called them on it (Luke 4:24), they tried to kill Him (4:28-29)! Also, He wept over Jerusalem, recalling how they had killed prophets and stoned others sent to them (Luke 13:33-34).
Religious people had Jesus killed.
He blatantly discounted their ideas, rejected their assumptions and rebuked their practises. Even their evangelism! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Now you don’t hear that verse at many evangelism meetings, do you!!??
What made Jesus such a rebel?
I think He made such great rebel because He was the ultimate expression of what a prophet was – and prophets stirred up messes. Prophets (Jeremiah, Elijah, Joel, Hosea, Malachi, Ezekiel, Micah, and John the Baptist – who Jesus said was the greatest) told the people of God to get their act together and be the people they are supposed to be.
Let’s take the ‘evangelism’ passage for a great example. Almost all of the 8 ‘woes‘ in Luke 23 are followed by ‘hypocrite‘ or actor, or fake (what would we do to someone who called us fake?). Read the whole passage. Jesus nails them for: not doing what they have others do; showing off; treating gold and sacrifices as more important than the temple or altar; and much more.
Verse 23 provides a nice summary of what His problem was with them. “…you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin (herbs), and have neglected the weightier matters of the law (the law of Moses, or Mosaic Law): justice and mercy and faith.” They had focused on the commandment of tithing so much that they didn’t even want to forget their spices! – but they missed the themes of justice, mercy and faith that run right through the law! Then, using the ‘cup-washing’ analogy, Jesus goes on to say that if you concentrate on these important things first (cleaning the inside of the cup), then the other things will fall into place naturally (the outside will be clean).
What connections can we make for us today from this passage?
Perhaps the prophet Jesus would have a few harsh words for some of us. How would we take them?
Perhaps there are things we do that equate to washing the outside of the cup…
Perhaps we sometimes need to hear harsh words…
Perhaps listening to rebels can be a good idea…
At the time of Christ’s birth, the angels said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14) Isn’t that an amazing idea that God extended His good will in our direction? He did so in the very act of Christ taking on our flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). It’s the act of incarnation. Christ gave up the comfort and prestige of heaven and willingly chose to live a life filled with discomfort and mockery. Our Lord went through times of loneliness, being misunderstood, physical exhaustion, hunger, agony, pain and yes, death.
Christ knew from eternity what would come with His incarnation. This Christmas, perhaps we can recognize our calling to be like Christ in this way. We are called to go into the world in the same way Christ did. All too often Christians instead choose to live cozy lives of faithful church service attendance, Bible studies, and friendships with other believers. We are quite comfortable to speak to each other in Christian-ese and continually listen to our favourite style of worship music.
Of course, I’m not trying to devalue the utter importance of Christian fellowship. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that our calling includes so much more than fellowship. We must go into the world. We must learn the language of the world. To do this we must risk being… uncomfortable. It means we don’t force people to listen to our stories until we’ve listened to theirs. The willingness to do this doesn’t come naturally, but super-naturally. May we have the courage of Christ in us to motivate us to sacrifice our comfort, reputations, productivity, lifestyle or anything else that is keeping us from fully answering our calling to be incarnational.
One of the most bizarre notions in the entire universe is also one of the most important doctrines of Christianity. It’s the idea of a new identity.
The over-abundance of self-help books, ‘inspirational’ seminars and ‘inner-peace’ tapes/CD’s only begin to show our human obsession with life change. We want it. We crave it. We need it. We know something is wrong inside of us, and we will try anything to make it better.
Unlike the comforting, feel-good, wholeness, positive message of these mediums, the message of the Cross is offensive. The Cross doesn’t hide our weakness, but painfully exposes it. The Cross doesn’t try to fix our broken lives, but ends them! In the book, Grace Walk, Steve McVey rightly points out that we don’t get our lives changed, but get them ex-changed!
At times we forget that the Empty Tomb and the wonderful promises of newness of life come only after the Cross and it’s shame. Humanity would love to have the power of the Empty Tomb, but is too proud to humble itself to bow to the Cross. Take a fresh look at the following verses:
Jesus in Luke 14:27, “The man who will not take up his cross and follow in my footsteps cannot be my disciple.” – (Phillips)
Jesus in Mark 8:35, “Whoever wants to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” – (New American Standard)
The Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me; and the life which I now live in the body I live through faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up to death on my behalf” – (Weymouth)
Paul in 2 Timothy 2:11, “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.” – (New King James)
This dying is not a once in a lifetime occurance, either! For God’s life and power to flow through us, we must take Jesus’ advice in this last verse:
Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” – (King James Version)
Note: I’ve shamelessly ‘borrowed’ some (all?) of these concepts. You can find them yourself if you research Judaism. Also, Rob Bell covers them quite well in his book, “Velvet Elvis” and his Nooma DVD entitled “Dust.”
Studying the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament, or the books of Moses) is an integral part of Jewish life. In Jesus’ day, Jewish boys would begin Torah study around the age of six (bet sefer), and would memorize it entirely! Around age ten, while the majority of the boys would begin learning their fathers’ trade, the best of these Torah students went on to study other Jewish writings and memorize the rest of the Old Testament (bet talmud)! That’s right, even Psalms and Proverbs! Finally, in their early teens, the best of the best of these would apply to a rabbi’s disciple (bet midrash). They didn’t just want to know what the rabbi knew, they wanted to DO what the rabbi DID. If a rabbi thought the student could ‘do what he did’ (known as a ‘yoke’), he would ‘call’ the student to be his disciple by saying, “Come and follow me.” The student would then leave family, friends and his whole life to follow the Rabbi and take his ‘yoke.’ Each Rabbi’s ‘yoke’ was shaped and influenced by the interpretations of the Scriptures that the Rabbi had, so some ‘yokes’ were more strict or ‘heavy’ than others. Following the Rabbi wherever he went inspired the Jewish blessing, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.”
Jesus was a radical rabbi…
When other rabbi’s looked for the cream of the crop, Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors! That’s right, He called those who didn’t even make it past learning the Torah! He also said that His yoke was easy, and His burden was light!
These radical actions and words of Jesus highlight His turning away from burdensome, strict, ordered processes of learning and teaching. Jesus’ emphasis was on relationships. He must have believed that if His disciples loved Him, then they would be like Him!
Perhaps this sheds new light on the Great Commandment to love the Lord your God, and the Great Commission of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. He wants us to share a way of life with each other and the world that He said was easy and light. He wants that way of life to flow from a relationship with Him.
Are you involved in a discipleship relationship?
May you see the importance of your relationship with Christ above all others.
May you realize the calling of Christ to disciple-making.
May you understand that this means disciple-being as well.
May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.
What does it look like to love God and my neighbor?
I know, I know. You might be getting a bit numb to the topic of love. Maybe you have love figured out. If so, stop reading right now. This article won’t apply to you. If you’re like the rest of us, you can probably admit you have a thing or two to learn about True love.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were clear, precise, practical examples of what True love is? Then we could stop guessing and just do it, right? Some of us long to be told just what to DO in order to demonstrate True love. Would that help? I’m not convinced that it would.
You see, what looks like love isn’t always the real deal. Truth is, we ALL know what love LOOKS like, even if we don’t know what love IS. Just think of all the donations to charities all over the world that would never be made unless someone was looking. There just has to be something in it for us. It’s not flattering, but it’s the truth. The world runs on selfishness. And what’s really scary is when selfishness is disguised as humility or generosity.
So I won’t waste any time telling you to talk to your neighbor even if they aren’t like you; I won’t try to tell you where the line is between affection and disrespect for your boy/girlfriend’s body; and as much as you might like me to, I won’t try to tell you how to learn to love people you don’t like or that don’t like you. That is behavior modification, and it doesn’t work. Sure, it might make things look a little bit better, but at the end of the day, no change results.
What I WILL do, is point you once again to the best example of love that we have. The one act of Grace that echoes through all eternity, silencing all other acts of love. The sacrifice that out-does all of our petty performances of trying to love others. The death of Christ.
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:10-11
May God’s love be perfected in us… period.
Last week we addressed how poor usage of time can and will keep our churches and lives from being ‘hospitals.’ Hopefully, we all took a much needed look at just how busy we are.
This week, let me share some more thoughts, taking the hospital analogy just a bit further…
How DARE we act like WE are the doctor!!! What am I talking about? Am I contradicting myself? Let me explain…
We are NOT the doctor. Nope. Not in the ‘hospital’ of the Church. We can be assistants, nurses, janitors, and even patients, but we must never call ourselves the doctor. The Great Physician, Jesus, is the One who mends, heals and saves. We are His apprentices, and yes, sometimes His patients.
As apprentices, we need to KNOW the Physician more and more. As we do, we will get better and better at the work He wants to do through us. We must not try to improve on His methods or timing, but trust that He knows what He is doing. Are you trying to be the Doctor in someone’s life? Are you trying to ‘fix’ them? Or are you leaving room for God to grow that person, using His methods and in His time?
As patients, we need to TRUST the Physician. He allows us to get hurt but has a purpose for it and wants to use it to grow you. Later in life, you can be there for someone going through what you’re going through now! Are you upset that God is letting you go through a certain situation? He is NOT there to keep every bad thing from happening to you (though many Christians act, believe and pray this way). He IS there to be TRUSTED. Let the Physician work. Are you resisting the authority of the Doctor? Are you trying to ‘fix’ yourself? Hello? YOU CAN’T!
He will allow you to struggle and struggle to ‘fix’ yourself and succeed for a while and then fail. You know the cycle? Up, down, up, down. You have to take your hands off the wound for the Physician to get in there and heal it. Yes, taking your hands off of it might mean others will see it, but it’s the only way for REAL healing.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” -Jesus
In His Grace,