One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TOMS: John 7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 28, 2007

This chapter begins with a shocking revelation about Jesus' family. It was the time for the Jewish feast of Tabernacles, or Booths. Jesus' brothers (half-brothers, of course) came to Him and said, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." Then John adds, "For not even his brothers believed in him." (7:3-5) Jesus' brothers were mocking His teaching and His success. If this means anything, it means that Jesus as a young man did not flaunt His gifts. If as adults (I assume that if Jesus was 30 or 31 here, that His brothers would have mostly been in their 20s) they did not believe, then they would not have seen Jesus performing miracles as a child, as some of the apocryphal gospels record. It is instructive that most of Jesus' siblings did come to salvation after His death and resurrection.

Anyway, Jesus did not humor them, but He did go to Jerusalem later. Jesus was apparently the main topic of conversation in town. When He didn't show when they expected, they wondered where He was. The Jewish leaders were intent on arresting Him, so that is probably the main reason He did not come at first. When He does finally come, He doesn't hold back: "Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?" (7:19)

The verses that follow reveal the confusion that surrounded Jesus, and the confusion of the people about the nature of the Messiah. Some of the people said, "When the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from." (7:27) These people concluded that since they knew Jesus was from Nazareth, then that meant he was not the Christ. Others said the exact opposite: “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (7:41-42)

Why was there so much confusion? Mainly because the Judaism that was practiced in the first century was not the religion God gave Moses centuries earlier. In its place the Pharisees, Sadducees and others had created a religion based on superstition and twisted applications of Moses' Law. Time and time again in the Gospels Jesus points His opponents to the Law of Moses and demonstrates how far their false religion had strayed from God's plan for Israel.

In the midst of all this confusion, the Pharisees sent soldiers to arrest Jesus. They were going to bring Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin and prove to the people that Jesus was a fraud. The soldiers came back empty handed, saying, "No one ever spoke like this man!" (7:46)

Then John records a very interesting statement by a familiar character: Nicodemus: "Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 'Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?'" (7:51, ESV) This is valuable for a number of reasons. First, it tells us that Nicodemus was probably a believer. Secondly, it humanizes the Sanhedrin somewhat. The council always appears in the Gospels and Acts, with a few exceptions like we see here, as a monolithic entity only interested in preserving their traditions.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

TOMS: John 6, Part 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 25, 2007

As we left off yesterday, Jesus was correcting the Jews' superstitious belief that Moses had provided the manna in the desert. Jesus then goes farther and says there is something more precious than physical food. That of course, is Jesus himself.

The Jews are mystified that Jesus would call Himself the bread that came down from heaven. They misjudge Him, saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"(6:42) They could see nothing beyond the physical fact of the man standing in front of them.

Jesus responds: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me." (6:44-45) This is one of the clearest statements of the doctrine of election in the Bible. Notice the phrase "I will raise him up on the last day." Who is the him? If you examine the passage, you will learn that the ones who are raised are those whom the Father draws. All that the Father draws will be in heaven. No more, no less. That's a mystery we cannot understand. We can debate the particulars, but the fact that God is the first actor in salvation is clear in Scripture.

The people, who have lived their whole lives in a culture of very strict dietary laws, still cannot get past Jesus' statement that He is the bread that came down from heaven. They say, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

Jesus does not allay their fears. In fact He compounds them: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." (6:53-58) Naturally, the people are stunned: "This  is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (6:60, ESV)

Now some take this verse out of context and say that Jesus is referring to the elements of communion. They teach that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ or that Christ is spiritually present in the elements. Nowhere in this passage does Jesus mention communion, and this event took place at least a year before the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted that ordinance. Jesus is talking in this whole context about believing in Him, and that is all this passage means. Jesus corrected their assumption about Moses, but He also builds off their error to draw a parallel to prove that He is better than Moses. Moses fed the people with manna: physical food. They are all dead. Jesus provides Himself: spiritual food. Those who take in Him will live forever. That's the simple message of Jesus here in this passage.

Friday, April 24, 2015

TOMS: John 6, Part 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 24, 2007

This is a terribly rich chapter of the Bible. It starts off with the feeding of the 5,000, which I shall skip because it has been commented on before, except for some comments added by John at the end of the story: "When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, 'This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!' Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (6:14-15) This seems more like a comment from Mark, but here we find it in John, and none of the other three Gospels mentions it. Of course John is setting up the discourse he is about to record, but it also gives proof of Jesus' deity. He is omniscient, and He knew what the people were wanting to do.

Next we have the story of Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm, although John curiously does not mention that Jesus actually calmed the storm, nor does he mention that Peter walked on the water toward Jesus.

John records a very funny observation next. The people saw the disciples get into the boat, but they knew Jesus did not get into the boat, the only boat at the dock that night. So they went looking for Jesus around the area where they had seen Him last night, but they didn't find Him. They went across the Sea, and found Jesus at Capernaum with the disciples. The community around the Sea of Galilee must have been a lot like the town I grew up in: Piedmont, Mo. In Piedmont everybody knows everybody else's vehicles. People wave to each other as they meet on the roads. You can drive by the grocery store and know at least half the cars in the parking lot. If you've never experienced small-town life, you probably won't understand that. But these people must have been like that. They saw Jesus staying while the disciples got in the boat, so they figured Jesus would still be there or somewhere close. There are numerous accounts in the Gospels of people seeing Jesus coming into town or seeing Him pass by from one place to another. People knew His boat, much like people know others' cars today.

Back to the story. The people who followed Jesus around to the other side were not interested in hearing or knowing Jesus. Most of them were there for the free food. If people figure they can get something for free, they will always line up at the trough to get more. Jesus confronts their hypocrisy: "'Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.' Then they said to him, 'What must we do, to be doing the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.' So they said to him, 'Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" (6:26-31) 

The people thought they could have it made if they kept following Jesus. After all, they thought, Moses gave the people food from heaven for 40 years. Jesus provided us one meal yesterday. If this man says he is better than Moses, then he ought to give us food for longer.

Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.'" (6:26-33, ESV)

The people's lack of faith is demonstrated by their misquoting of scripture. The ESV marginal note refers the reader back to Nehemiah 9:15, while another source I have here says the people were quoting Psalm 78:24. The passage from Nehemiah is closer, and is a public prayer which acknowledged God's power in providing the manna, and Psalm 78 also attributes the manna to God, not Moses. Whichever one they were thinking of, the people misquoted the scripture, twisting it to say that Moses gave the manna. Jesus quickly corrects them, and tells them there is something more miraculous than providing food for a day. What could that be? Come back here tomorrow, hopefully, if my meeting doesn't go too long.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

TOMS: John 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 22, 2007

This chapter starts with an interesting story about a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda. Pools were very important things in those days, since unless you had an aqueduct or were lucky enough to find a well, pools or cisterns were often the only source of water during the dry season. 

This pool had an interesting legend, which is mentioned in a marginal note in the ESV: "An angel of the Lord went down at a certain season into the pool, and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had." Apparently this verse, which is included in the text of the King James and New King James, is not included in some manuscripts. However, the ESV includes the man's statement in verse 7: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”

I am certainly not in a place to judge whether or not it should be included, but to me looks like a case of the longer reading being the better one. It almost seems like someone (or several someones) didn't like the element of magic in the story and decided to get rid of it. I don't know whether there was ever an angel who actually stirred the water, but apparently plenty of folks believed that it happened, and that is why there were many people sitting (or lying) around the pool.

After Jesus healed him, the man was walking around the temple. Many of his friends are surprised to see him, and word spreads quickly. The religious leaders come to him and ask him who healed him. The man points Jesus out to them. They come to Jesus and question Him, and Jesus replies: "My Father is working until now, and I am working." (5:17) John inserts an editorial comment here: "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (5:18) It is not enough for John to simply quote Jesus' words, because they might be misunderstood. John leaves no doubt that everyone who was there understood that Jesus claimed to be God. 

John then records an extended argument by Jesus in which He defends Himself. The climax of Jesus' argument is in verses 39-47. I will let them stand for themselves; they need no comment: 

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" 

Monday, April 20, 2015

TOMS: John 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 20, 2007

Here we have another very familiar story that takes up most of this chapter: the woman at the well. There are lots of lessons to learn from this story: all men are equal, God uses the useless things for His glory, etc. 

One thing I think is overlooked is the importance of worship in this conversation. Jesus first brings up the topic of her husband with the woman, and that certainly didn't sit too well. She tries to change the subject and says, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship."  (4:20) 

Jesus doesn't seem to mind changing the subject, and gives us the most significant statement about worship in the New Testament: "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (4:21-24)

A lot of people have a lot of ideas about what worship is. I'm not sure anyone has it 100 percent right, but I am also sure practically no one is 100 percent wrong, either. Jesus' statement seems rather nebulous, but there are a few things we can tell for sure. First of all, there are no hard and fast rules, or at least not nearly as many as we like to think. In Jesus' day, the debate was about the place of worship. Jesus is telling her that we can make anywhere a holy place when we worship God. The problem the Samaritans had is the fact that they did not know enough about Jehovah God to worship Him correctly. Jesus brings that up, but He says that can be overcome. Today the debates are mostly over style. We must overcome our blind spots as well in that regard.

Secondly, we can be sure those who emphasize only truth or only spirit have something wrong. Both are required. Worship which overemphasizes spirit or truth are often more exciting for us, either emotionally or intellectually, but it is not what God wants. God wants both our intellect and our emotions engaged in worship. Too often we believers are guilty of choosing one or the other.

I know I haven't got it figured out, but I'm pretty sure those people who say they do have it figured out really don't. I know I seem to say that a lot, but it's the most honest thing I can say a lot of the time.

Friday, April 17, 2015

TOMS: John 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 17, 2007

The first part of this chapter is one of the most famous discourses in all the Bible. Nicodemus, apparently one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin council, came to Jesus privately at night and tries to nail Jesus down, but Jesus does not play along with Nicodemus' questioning.

A minor point that I want to point out (in fact it may be an irrelevant point): Nicodemus says comes to Jesus and says, "We know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." (3:2) (Note the plural) From the other gospels, we infer that Jesus was doing miracles left and right early in His ministry, and that's what the council was concerned about. To this point in his Gospel, John only records one miracle. At the end of chapter 4, we find John mentions Jesus healing a boy and calls it Jesus' "second sign." John admits at the end of the book that he did not record everything Jesus did, and this is proof. John had no intention of writing an exhaustive biography of Jesus. He was putting together an important picture of who Jesus was and why He came.

Jesus does not let Nicodemus hit Him with questions. Nicodemus tries to soften Jesus up by saying something nice about Him, and Jesus comes right at him: "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (3:3) From this point on Jesus dominates the conversation. John only records two things Nicodemus said after this point: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (3:4) and "How can these things be?" (3:9) Nicodemus probably intended to say more, but he was blown away by Jesus' wisdom.

I would like to know how John was aware of this conversation. John had connections with the upper crust of Jewish society, much more than the other disciples (other than his older brother, but apparently only John was invited into the high priest's house at Jesus' trial), so perhaps Nicodemus himself told John about this conversation. Or maybe John overheard it.

This is a very familiar passage, and I don't want to just tell you something you've already heard before, so I will briefly comment on something. There are many commentators who think the actual conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus ends at verse 15, and that 16-21 were added by John. (you can read them for yourself. I'm sure you are familiar with at least verses 16-18). Not that they should not be in the text, but that they should not be in red letters representing Jesus' words. We understand that the original had no red letters, quotation marks or anything else to denote spoken words. Something to think about. It is consistent with the way John writes his Gospel: providing commentary along with describing the words and actions of Jesus.

The end of this chapter has an interesting story about John the Baptist. The other Gospels drop John after Jesus' baptism and then mention his beheading. Here we have an interesting picture of the end of John's ministry. People are coming up to him and saying, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." (3:26) John responds very eloquently, saying that he is only the friend of the bridegroom, and that Jesus is the groom. John concludes by saying "He must increase, but I must decrease." (3:30, ESV)

John had lived out his purpose on the earth and was knowing the joy of accomplishing what he came to do. Other people, even John's disciples, were disappointed with how everybody was following Jesus and ignoring John. But John is satisfied. Very interesting and quite amazing. No wonder Jesus called John the greatest man who ever lived.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TOMS: John 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 15, 2007

This second chapter begins with John's first recorded miracle, the changing of water to wine. Many commentators conclude this was probably Jesus' first miracle, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. (I will explain why later, in a couple of days, hopefully.) Jesus comes to a wedding, which in all cultures and in all times is a big deal.

It seems Jesus is dragging His feet here when it comes to performing this miracle. It almost seems like Mary is talking Him into doing it. When Mary comes up to Jesus and tells Him they have no more wine, Jesus said, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour is not yet come." (2:4) But Mary ignores His objections and tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." (2:5)

Now we can have a discussion all night about whether or not the wine Jesus made was alcoholic. I personally think it is irrelevant, but some people make a big deal out of it. No matter what people say, you will not find a single verse of scripture that explicitly forbids drinking alcohol. We can also be quite sure that Jesus would not have been providing more booze for a drunken party. Being drunk is always a sin, no matter which way you slice it.

Debating whether or not the wine was alcoholic is really missing the point of the story. The point of the story is that Jesus provided what was needed. It came in a way no one anticipated, and it was more than enough. Jesus will provide our needs, as well. The provision may not be what, when, where and how we expect, but it will be what we really need.

Next we have the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple. The other Gospels record Jesus cleansing the Temple during the week before his crucifixion, but this is apparently very early in Jesus' ministry. I guess He did it twice, which only goes to prove the tendency everyone has, especially me, of drifting right back into our old ways. The Lord shows us something in our lives, and we change for a while, but then we fall back right into the same old routine. Jesus ran the money changers and the salesmen out of the temple once, and they came right back and set up shop soon after He left.

The last section of this chapter is an example of what I wrote about in the intro about John editorializing: "So the Jews said to him, 'What sign do you show us for doing these things?' Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken." (2:18-22, ESV)

The Jews were furious with Jesus for what He did, and demanded to know on what authority Jesus was doing these things. Jesus did not give them a straight answer, but gives them a cryptic sign. The other gospels would have stopped right there. But John goes on to mention that after Jesus rose from the dead (Mark and Luke in a way try to keep the Resurrection a secret, telling the story through the viewpoint of the disciples) the disciples remembered this word and believed. John is saying this is what we believe, you need to believe it too.

Monday, April 13, 2015

TOMS: John 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 11, 2007

As I wrote yesterday, John is different from the other Gospels. He was writing specifically to address doctrinal error which had crept into the church just a few decades after the church started. Thus it should not be surprising that John's Gospel starts differently from the others: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (1:1) 

The first 14 verses of John's Gospel is one of the most doctrinally rich passages in the entire Bible. I mentioned yesterday about John specifically pointing out that the Word (Jesus) was made flesh and dwelt among us. 

I want to point out one specific passage: "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (1:12-13) Lots of people know verse 12, but not too many people focus on verse 13, which is a continuation of the thought and is an important affirmation of God's sovereignty in salvation. Most of us as believers understand and are thankful for the fact that we are not saved by blood - that is, no one is born a Christian. But sometimes we wish we could save others by our own will. But, as we will discuss later in John's Gospel, it is God who draws people to salvation. 

The Apostle John then briefly tells us the story of John the Baptist. As John began his ministry, large crowds came to hear him and be baptized. "And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, 'Who are you?' He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, 'I am not the Christ.' And they asked him, 'What then? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he answered, 'No.'" (1:19-21) Contrast this with this statement by Jesus about Elijah and John: "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased (referring to his execution)." (Matthew 17:11-12) Luke tells us that John came "in the spirit and power of Elijah." (1:17, ESV) 

A lot of conservative dispensationalists teach that Elijah will literally come during the Tribulation and will be one of the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation. Many often add that the other is Enoch. I have heard it said that these men did not "die" - they were taken into heaven - and so they will return to die their natural deaths. But think about this: there will be millions of Christians taken in the Rapture who will not die a natural death, and they will not be returning to earth. The simple answer to these questions is that John was the fulfillment of the prophecies about Elijah coming to Israel. This does not preclude a reappearance of Elijah, but it is not necessary to fulfill Scripture.

John includes a story next that sheds some light on the other Gospels. John tells the story of himself and Andrew, who were disciples of John, beginning to follow Jesus. Andrew gets his brother Simon and introduces him to Jesus. The Synoptics (the name given to the first three Gospels) record that Peter began to follow Jesus after the first miraculous catch of fish. From John's gospel we learn that Peter had met Jesus before and was intrigued, but had not yet made the decision to follow Him. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

TOMS: Intro to John

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 10, 2007

John's Gospel is probably the most beloved of the four Gospels. John is probably easier to read than any of the other Gospels, which is why his Gospel is often recommended for young Christians wanting to learn the basics of the faith.

The most significant fact to remember about the book of John is that it was written much later than the other three Gospels, 20-30 years later. When Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote, the church was still very young, and the most important thing was to get the facts out about Jesus. But by the time John wrote, the church was more mature, more diversified, and there were doctrinal errors to confront. 

The most serious error was Gnosticism, the idea that everything physical in the world is evil, and that everything spiritual is good. This led many to believe that Jesus was only a spiritual being, and did not possess a physical body. This is the significance of 1:14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." This fact also sheds a lot of light on a couple of passages in I John. In I John 1:1, John mentions that his hands touched Jesus. In I John 4:2 we find, "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God." In fact, if you read I John and John's Gospel together, you will see that they are very complimentary. I will probably refer to I John a few times as we go through John's Gospel.

Since John is writing at a later date and is confronting evil teachings in the church, he editorializes more than any other Gospel writer. By editorializing, I mean that he explains what is going on. For example, at one point many people were trying to make Jesus become a king, and John writes: "But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." (2:24-25, ESV) Now as a journalist, I should not editorialize - meaning I should not inject my opinion or tell my readers what to think. But as an apostle writing under the inspiration of God, John had every right to editorialize, and did so effectively. But the point is, you will never read Matthew, Mark or Luke telling you what Jesus is thinking or stating a fact about Jesus that has nothing to do with the narrative. But John does it all the time. John's Gospel reads more like an epistle than any of the other three Gospels. John starts with an introduction and closes with a conclusion that we will discuss more later. The other Gospels jump right into the story, with the exception of Matthew's genealogy, and just end abruptly. 

This is not to say that John is any more or less inspired or anything like that; it is just different, and it is important that you understand the difference and why John wrote the way that he did. It was not by accident.

Friday, April 10, 2015

TOMS: Luke 24

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 8, 2007

No, I'm not smart enough to coincidentally write about Luke 24 on Easter, it just worked out that way.

Luke's record of the Resurrection is different in that he doesn't give us any immediate confirmation. The only indication we have that Jesus is alive is the statement by the angels to the women who came to the tomb. Luke's account builds slowly. Here's a typical selection: "Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened." (24:10-12)

Instead Luke launches immediately into a story found nowhere else: the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The only name we have is Cleopas. We know that they lived in the same house (or at least we assume so, they could have been just happening to stay at one house) so it is possible that the other disciple was Cleopas' wife or brother. 

Anyway, the resurrected Lord Jesus comes walking with these two disciples, and they don't realize who it is. They are disappointed because Jesus was dead, and they think it is all over. All their dreams, their hopes for the glorious future, were gone. Jesus didn't coddle them. He says: "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (24:25-26) Of course, Luke does tell us "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." (24:16, ESV) But still, Jesus explains to them the scriptures about Himself as they were walking. I wish Luke had recorded what Jesus said. That would make a lot of sense - bridging the gaps between the Old and New Testaments. But of course God knows what is best.

Anyway, it was getting dark, and Jesus is going to go on, but the disciples compel Him to stay with them. Of course, hospitality was an important part of the Jewish tradition. But as soon as they sat down to dinner, Jesus breaks bread and suddenly they saw - it was Jesus! Just as soon, Jesus was gone. They ran back into Jerusalem to tell the disciples there what had happened. This time they were running as fast as they could go. They made it back to Jerusalem in no time. 

Luke doesn't give us a whole lot of details beyond the first night after Jesus rose, but he is the only Gospel writer to mention the Ascencion.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

TOMS: Luke 23

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 6, 2007

This chapter tells the story of the Crucifixion. Talk about a pack of lies! Listen to the council's accusation against Jesus: "We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king." (23:2) Jesus never once told people not to pay taxes to Caesar; in fact, He said the exact opposite.

Meanwhile Pilate finds out that Jesus is a Galilean and sends Him to Herod, who happens to be in town, presumably for the Passover. Herod is a pathetic figure. He was only interested in seeing Jesus put on a magic show. Jesus does nothing, and Herod is furious and sends Him back to Pilate. Pilate tries to reason with the religious leaders: "You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish him and release him." (23:14-16) But of course we know that more powerful forces were at work.

I'm skipping over a lot here, but Luke is the only Gospel to mention the faith of the thief who was crucified next to Jesus. It is instructive that the man said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (23:42, ESV) This man had more faith than the disciples. They all fled (with the exception of John), figuring the kingdom was over. Here is this man looking at a man being executed, asking Him for favor when He enters His kingdom. No doubt he was the only person there who actually thought that Jesus would have a kingdom, with the possible exception of Mary His mother, who knew who He was but surely did not understand everything that was going on.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TOMS: Luke 22

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 4, 2007

This chapter gets us into the story of the Crucifixion, the most important event in the history of the world. The most important thing to observe in the story of the Crucifixion is the sovereignty of God. One of the most important passages that brings out this truth is found in Isaiah 53:10-11: "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;" Nothing that happened during the Crucifixion caught God or Jesus off-guard. Everything happened according to the plan set in place before time began.

Even Satan obeys the will of God, as we see in this chapter: "Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd." (22:3-6)

Try as he might, Satan's plans ultimately work out to the glory of God. I certainly have no idea of what goes on between God and Satan and how they work in the human race, but even Satan has to obey the will of God. I often wonder why God doesn't just do away with him completely, but even that is part of His plan. 

The next section deals with the Last Supper, and I think you are familiar with that, but we must remember that each Gospel records this event differently. John is the only one who mentions that Jesus washed the disciples' feet after the supper. Luke mentions that the disciples were arguing as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom after supper. I don't want to steal my own thunder from when we get to this passage in John, but no doubt Jesus' shocking action of washing their feet was in response to this argument. 

After supper, of course, they went to the garden, although Luke calls it the Mount of Olives. The two must have been very close together, or maybe the garden was on part of the mount. You are no doubt familiar with the story, but twice Jesus comes back from praying to rebuke the sleeping disciples, and He tells them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." 

What kind of temptation were the disciples facing? I think maybe I have found the answer, and it is something I have never noticed before. Read verses 31-32 from the King James: "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Now in normal reading, we don't notice an important difference in the pronouns in this verse, and you certainly will not notice the difference in the modern versions- that is why I specifically used the KJV. In modern English, the only second person pronoun is "you." But in the era of the KJV there were four: "thou," "thee," "ye" and "you." If you go back and read that again, you will notice that Jesus first addresses all the disciples: "you" is used twice in verse 31. But in verse 32, He addresses Simon Peter specifically: "thee," "thy" and "thou." So Jesus says Satan desired all of the disciples, but Peter specifically. All of the disciples were subject to being tempted to deny Christ. Sadly, all but Peter and John fled.

At the very end of the chapter, you notice Jesus does something He never did before: He plainly answers a point-blank demand from the religious leaders if He was the Son of God. For years, people had been asking Him that and He had brushed it off or responded back with another question. Here comes the moment of ultimate rejection. Jesus is brought before the Council: "So they all said, 'Are you the Son of God, then?' And he said to them, 'You say that I am.' Then they said, 'What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.'" (22:70-71, ESV) Jesus finally answered truthfully, and instead of worshiping Him as who He was, they condemned Him to death. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

TOMS: Luke 21

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 3, 2007

This chapter opens with the widow's offering and goes to a summary of the Olivet Discourse. 

The story of the widow's offering of "two small copper coins" is one of the best examples of God's demands on us. God is not our servant that we toss a tip to. He demands everything. And that includes our money, which is hard a lot of the time, because I know I need what little money I have for this or that. Of course, like most things in life, what is important is our attitude, and that is of course true here too. Jesus knew that was all the lady had, and yet He did not try to stop her and tell her she did not need to give because she was so poor. I know it's hard, but too often I am guilty of being too conservative with God.

The rest of the chapter is Luke's version of the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus tells the story of the end of the age. The most important thing that most prophecy buffs miss is the warning Jesus gives in verses 8-9: "See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once." I was young, but I remember some guy wrote a book, "88 reasons Jesus is coming in 1988." I never saw or read the book, but I saw its effects. People everywhere were convinced it was true. Christian publishing companies were printing all kinds of books and pamphlets that people were to leave for their relatives who missed the Rapture. Well, here we are almost 20 years later. It didn't happen. I don't want to de-emphasize the imminent return of Christ, but at the same time it is foolish to get caught up in every exciting thing that comes along. It is true that it is God's will that we understand everything in the Bible, but that's not going to happen. It's better to live our lives in simple service to God instead of getting caught up in eschatological fads.

Although I am certainly not a preterist (someone who believes all the prophecies about the end times has already been fulfilled) there is no doubt that part of Jesus' teaching was to warn His hearers about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in AD 70. I don't understand all of it, but I know that Jesus is coming one day to establish His eternal kingdom.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

TOMS: Luke 20

For an introduction to this series, click here.

April 2, 2007

This section is quite similar to the section in Matthew in which Jesus is peppered with questions, which the religious leaders were using to try to trap him.

The first question is a point-blank challenge: "Tell us by what authority you do this things, or who is it that gave you this authority?" (20:2) Jesus does not respond to their challenge. Instead He asks them another question: "Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" (20:4) Of course they had no answer, since they reasoned that if they said from heaven, He would ask why didn't they believe him, and if they said of men, the crowd would turn against them. Jesus had no time for people who had no intention of believing on Him.

The next question is about paying taxes. They asked Him, "Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" (20:23) Of course, all of the Jews hated the fact that they were under Roman oppression. Many in the crowd doubtless thought Jesus would be the one to lead the glorious Jewish revolution against Rome. But Jesus was not going to be caught up in their political scheme. He says, "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" Of course it had Caesar's name and picture, another fact which infuriated the Jews, since the second commandment strictly forbad graven images. "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." (20:25) 

This is a good lesson for us today. In this church era, religion and politics are best kept as separate as possible. It is true that God gave the Jews specific governmental laws in the Old Testament, but those laws were designed for a theocracy, not for a multicultural, secular society. Christians throughout the past 2,000 years have attempted to combine human government with Christianity, and every attempt has been a miserable failure. Certainly there are principles from Scripture which can be applied to politics, but if a politician claims to speak for God, he or she just lost my vote.

Next, the Sadducees, who basically believed only Moses' writings and did not believe in the resurrection and other stuff they saw as superstition in the other OT books, asked Jesus about a woman whose husband died without fathering a child. In Moses' law, the dead man's brother was to father a child with his brother’s widow, and the child was to be viewed as the son of the dead man. And if the brother was not married, he was to take her as his wife. This woman married all seven brothers under this command. "In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife." (20:33) Jesus responded that the people in the resurrection do not marry "because they are equal to the angels (another being the Sadducees did not believe in)." (20:36) Then Jesus throws this in for good measure: "But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him." (20:37-38) No wonder they "no longer dared to ask him any question." (20:40, ESV)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TOMS: Luke 19

For an introduction to this series, click here.

March 29, 2007

This chapter starts out with the story of Zacchaeus. This is one of the great stories in the Bible. The story of Zacchaeus tells us that when we seek for God, we will find Him. I am assuming you know a little something about Zacchaeus already, so let's go forward to the parable that takes up a large part of this chapter.

This is the parable of the 10 minas, or as the King James calls them, pounds. The translators of the KJV took every opportunity to dumb down their Bible to make it supposedly easier for their readers to understand, and nowhere does this attempt actually make it harder to understand than when it comes to money. They kept the concept of the talent, which was a huge sum of money, but when they came to "denarius" they substituted "penny" and when they came to "mina" they used "pound." In both cases, the Greek text plainly says either "denarius" or "mina." A denarius was a standard day's wage for an unskilled laborer. In our money that is about $50. I know inflation and minimum wage laws change things, but at least that's an easy way to make comparisons. A quick perusal of the reference materials I have up here did not give me a specific answer on how much a mina was, but it was basically between $3,000 and $4,000: a significant sum, but substantially less than a talent, which works out to about a quarter of a million. Neither the denarius or the mina have any parallel to the English penny or pound.

This parable is obviously similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, but the differences stand out more than the similarities. In Luke's story, the king deals with not only his servants, but also rebellious subjects who do not want him to be king. The king gives each of his servants the same amount of money, one mina. This is different from the talents, where the master gives his servants different amounts of money. When the king comes back, one of his servants has made 10 minas in return. He is warmly praised, and is put over 10 cities. Another made 5 minas. He is commended, and put over 5 cities. This is different from the talents, in which the two servants who both doubled their money receive the exact same praise from the master. The third servant buried the money, and his money is taken away. But he is not cast into judgment, as the lazy servant in Matthew is. Instead, the rebellious people are judged.

This parable neatly parallels the Judgment Seat of Christ for the saved. We, the servants of King Jesus, are not punished for the bad things we did - those sins are already atoned for by Jesus. Instead, we are rewarded for the good things we did. Some will receive larger rewards than others, and some will receive absolutely nothing. I am afraid that you can count me in that sad list.

Let's go on. Next we have the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. How serendipitous! This Sunday is Palm Sunday, which marks both the high point of Jesus' ministry and the beginning of the end, which would come in less than a week. As we talked about in Mark, the Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was doing. They knew that this was a fulfillment (of course to them it was a staged act) of Zechariah's prophecy, which reads: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9, ESV) This was the last straw as far as the Jewish leaders were concerned, and they were determined to do away with Him.

Then, of course, Jesus rides into the Temple, and kicks out all the money changers and the animal salesmen. I wonder what Jesus would think of all the hucksterism we see and hear on Christian radio and TV, with the vials of holy water and handkerchiefs and all the other nonsense. Of course this has been going on for centuries. Sales of indulgences, sales of relics, etc., have been a black mark on the church throughout its history.