Monday, November 11, 2019

Five loaves and two fish: John 6:1-22

In John 6, we read the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. In the story, Jesus multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish to feed the multitude of people who had come out to hear him. Later that day, Jesus sent his disciples on ahead of him to the other side of Sea of Galilee while he went up into the mountains to pray. Later that night, Jesus would walk across the water to join the disciples in their boat. The next morning, the people returned to the same place, hoping to find Jesus again, but they were all gone. John records, “There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks” (John 6:23). In the Greek, the phrase "after given thanks" is a participle. Therefore, this version can  also be translated, “they came near the place where, the Lord having given thanks, they eat the bread.”

If it were me that day, I would have said, “the Lord having multiplied the loaves” or “the Lord having performed a great miracle." However, what was foremost in the minds of the people who returned was not the great miracle Jesus did, but how he had first given thanks for the five loaves and two fish. What was so surprising or memorable about someone standing up to offer God thanks for what he had provided? Could it be that they had long since ceased to offer God for the little they had? Had their estimation of God’s provision, or lack thereof, caused them to become ungrateful for what little they did have? What about us? Do we thank God for what we have or complain about what we do not have? Perhaps if we would give thanks for God’s provision, he might break it and bless it and cause it to multiply. Jesus’ thankfulness opened the door to God’s miracle provision for the multitude that day. I believe that our thankfulness can also open to us God’s miracle provision in ways we cannot even expect.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The heavens have been opened: John 1:50-51

When Phillip called Nathaniel to come and meet Jesus, Jesus surprised him by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48) Nathaniel was impressed and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49) However, Jesus responded to Nathaniel by saying, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these… Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51) What is interesting in this verse is that the Greek word translated here as “opened” is a perfect participle. In the Greek, the perfect tense represents a past action whose effect continues to today. In other words, this verse could be translated, “The heavens having been opened, you will see…” Jesus was not saying that Nathaniel would occasionally see the heaves open and close and the angels ascending and descending. Rather, he was saying that the heavens had already been opened, and as such, Nathaniel would see the ongoing interaction between heaven and Earth. Jesus inaugurated a new era of an open heaven. The heavens have been, and remain, open, and heaven is invading Earth. What hope this gives us in our daily lives.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Encouraging one another: Col 4:17

At the end of his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul writes, “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.’” (Col. 4:17) It is unclear as to who Archippus was, but he may have been the same Archippus that Paul mentions in his letter to Philemon: “To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.” (Philemon 1:1-2) In this verse, Archippus may have been the son of Philemon and Apphia. Either way, Paul issues a gentle rebuke to Archippus for neglecting the ministry (service) he received from the Lord. What is interesting in this passage is that the Greek word translated “Say” is a second-person plural imperative (command). Paul was not speaking this command to a single person or a select group of leaders in the church; he was speaking to the entire church. Paul was saying, “You all say to Archippus…” The point is that we all have a responsibility to encourage and exhort one another. It can be tempting to want to relegate all ministry to the professional ministers, but God is calling each one of us to minister to each other and to encourage each other with the word and love of God.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Seasoned with salt: Col 4:6

Paul tells us to “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Col. 4:6) The Greek word translated here as “seasoned” can also be translated as “prepared,” as one might “prepare” a meal by properly seasoning it. Paul is saying that we need to use intentionality in our speech. No one haphazardly seasons a dish; rather, they do it intentionally, and with care and precision, lest the dish is ruined. So too, with our speech. Before we speak, we ought to consider what we are about to say, the words we are going to use, and how we hope them to be received by the hearer. Furthermore, in being intentional in our speech, it should always be our intention to speak in a way that our words carry grace. The seasoning of our words with grace does not happen automatically; it is something that we must consider, intend, and practice. Jesus warns us of the danger of unguarded speech and of speaking unprepared when he said, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” (Mat. 12:36) In light of this truth, let us consider what we are to say before we actually speak; let us consider how our speech might convey grace to our hearer; let us consider how our speech may be used to communicate God’s love to others.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Asked for the body of Jesus: Luke 23:52

After Jesus had died, and while he still remained upon the cross, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate “and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Luke 23:52) The word translated here as “asked” is an interesting word. In the Greek, verbs are spoken in one of three voices: active, passive, and middle. In the active voice, the subject is doing the action. In the passive voice, the action is being done to the subject. In the middle voice, the subject is doing the action for themselves. In this verse, “asked” is spoken in the middle voice. Joseph was asking for himself the body of Jesus. This verb in this form is only used six times in the New Testament: three times in reference to Joseph of Arimathea, once by the daughter of Herodias as she asked for the head of John the Baptist (Mark 6:25), once of David as he asked permission to build God a temple (Acts 7:46), and once when Paul asked for letters to arrest any believers he might find in his travels (Acts 9:2).

In this passage, Joseph is not asking for someone else, or for some other purpose, but was asking for himself the body of Jesus. This was a bold move. It exposed him as a follower of Jesus and put his life in danger. But Joseph was all in and was willing to be associated with Christ, even in his death. While previously, he believed in secret, now his alliances were in the open for all to see. Sometimes it can be difficult to be associated with Christ or with his church, especially around people who do not believe and are even hostile to Christianity. But we must be willing to learn from the example of Joseph and be willing for others to see that, we too, have asked for ourselves to have Jesus.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Continually hated: Luke 21:16-19

Jesus warns his disciples of how they will be treated for his namesake, saying, “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:16-19) What is interesting in this verse is that, in the Greek, the word translated here as “hated” is a present passive participle, which implies a continuous action being done to the subject. Jesus’ disciples would not just be hated, but they will be continually and habitually hated. Their condition in the world would become as those whom the world continually hates.

As disciples, we should not expect the world, and its corrupt system, to love us. Christianity should never become so domesticated that there no longer remains any difference between the church and the world. Rather, our goal should be to live counter-cultural lives that display a true alternative to this present world system. Such living may engender the disdain of the world, but it will win for us the approval of God as it offers hope to those trapped in this world and this “present evil age.” (Gal. 1:4)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

I, I will give: Luke 21:12-15

Jesus warns his disciples that there will come times when those who oppose them “will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.” (Luke 21:12) However, he tells them that they need not worry beforehand how they should respond in such situations. Jesus promised them, “I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.” (Luke 21:15) What is interesting in the Greek is that a verb’s ending tells you who is speaking. So, for example, a single word could be translated, “I will give.” However, in this case, Jesus includes the personal pronoun “I.” This verse could rightfully be translated, “I, I will give…” The personal pronoun “I,” though not needed, is used for emphasis. Jesus was telling the disciples not to trust in their own wisdom or understanding but rather to trust in their relationship with him. When we face difficult situations, our hope is not in what we know, but whom we know. If we have a relationship with Jesus, then he himself will come to us and give us what we should speak or lead us to what we should do. Most religions are based upon laws and precepts, but Christianity is based upon a relationship; a relationship with Christ.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

In your sight: Luke 15:18-19

In the story of the prodigal son, we read that, having become impoverished, the prodigal son comes to himself and resolves to “get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’’ (Luke 15:18-19) Here the Greek word translated “in your sight” can also be translated as “in front of” and is an acknowledgment by the son that his sins were not done in private, nor was he the only one affected by his sins. While his father may have not physically witnessed his sins, he was nevertheless affected by his son’s sins. He was deeply hurt and grieved by his son’s sins. In returning, the son does not say that he will repent to his father, for his sins were against God, but he does propose to acknowledge both the pain and suffering that his sins caused his father. Very rarely, if ever, does our sin hurt only ourselves. Often it is the people closet to us that are hurt the most when we sin. While repentance is important, often, it is also necessary to acknowledge and address the pain and suffering we have caused others. We must not only repent to God for the sin we committed against him, but we must also seek reconciliation for the hurt we caused to those before whom we sinned. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Fences: Luke 14:23

In Luke 14, Jesus tells a story of a man who prepared a great feast and invited all his friends. However, on the day of the feast, when the guests were called to come, they all began to make excuses. “The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’   Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’   Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20) The host was angry and decided to invite others to take their place. “Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ (Luke 14:21) However, that being done, there was still room at the feast. “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.   For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’” (Luke 14:23-24)

The word translated here as “hedges” is the Greek word for “fence” and, in that time period, was used in two senses. The first referred to the fences around the homes of wealthy landowners. This is where the vagabonds and beggars would loiter waiting for a handout. In this sense, the master of the feast is sending an invitation to the lowliest of society; those at the bottom of the social latter. Those who saw themselves as worthy were rejected, and those who were perceived by society as unworthy were invited. However, this same Greek word is also used by Paul to describe the separation of the Jews and Gentiles. Paul says that Jesus “Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” (Eph 2:14) The word translated here a “barrier” is the same word translated above as “hedges.” Here, the host is seen inviting those who are on the outside; those who have bee separated, marginalized, and pushed aside by society. In either case, we see the invitation of God (which is the interpretation of this parable) going out to those who live at the fences. Those who are unworthy, who live on the wrong side of the tracks, and those who do not fit in.

Understanding this scripture in this way causes me to consider how I view myself and others. Do I view myself as on the outside and not fitting in? If so, then the Gospel is good news because these are the people God is calling to himself. Similarly, when looking at others who are outcast and ostracized, do I see them as the ones for whom Jesus died and to whom his invitation goes out? If not, then maybe I need to learn to see myself, and the world, through Jesus' eyes; eyes which welcome all to his banquet feast.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Becoming a neighbor: Luke 10:36

In the story of the Good Samaritan, a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jerico. Along the way, he was attacked by robbers and left for dead. While lying beside the road, both a priest and a Levite came by but refused to help. Finally, a Samaritan came by and helped the man, taking him to an inn and paying for his care. In telling this story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” (Luke 10:36). The Greek word translated here as “proved to be” is an interesting word and has a wide range of meanings. It can also be translated “to have become.” We could retranslate Jesus’ question as, “Which one of the three has become a neighbor to the man?”

In asking this question, Jesus redefines for us who our neighbor is. His definition of neighbor is not static but dynamic. A neighbor is not simply someone we live close to but includes all we invite into our lives. The Samaritan did not know the man who was beaten by robbers. The man was not a neighbor in the normal sense of the word, but the Samaritan took pity on him and gave of his time and money to care for him. The Samaritan was willing to bring this man into the realm of his relationships and treated him like any other neighbor he might have. The important point here is that the Samaritan made himself a neighbor to one who was not formally his neighbor.

This scripture causes me to ask myself, “In expressing the love of God to others, do I only consider those close to me, only my neighbors, or am I willing to extend God’s love even to strangers in, to become a neighbor to those in need?” While we were still enemies of God, he came down and became our neighbor. He gave all he had to heal and care for us and to bring us into a relationship with himself. Ought we not do likewise to others in need?