Monday, December 23, 2019

Standing in the truth: John 8:44

One day, Jesus was rebuking those who claimed to be the dependents of Abraham while, at the same time, seeking to kill him, one who spoke truth to them, something which “Abraham did not do.” (John 8:40) Instead of having Abraham as their father, Jesus said that they were of their “father the devil.” (John 8:44) Jesus goes on to describe the devil as being one who “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44) Here, what Jesus did not say is just as important as what he did say. Jesus did not say that the devil did not know the truth, nor that he did not believe the truth, but that he did not stand in the truth. In fact, Jesus uses the imperfect tense of the verb that refers to a past continuous action. Literally, Jesus said that the devil “was not standing in the truth.”

We sometimes hear people saying that they are “standing on the truth,” referring to some promise that they are trusting in. However, to stand in the truth is more than merely hoping for some promise to be fulfilled. It involves ordering our lives according to the truth, making the truth the foundation of our lives, and the wellspring of our every thought and action. We are not to stand upon the truth, rather, we are to stand in the truth. This represents a continuous and consistent standing in, and acting upon, the truth of God. To those who are willing to do so, to stand in the truth, Jesus promises, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Collateral Damage: John 8:7

There is a story in the book of John, where the Scribes and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. In asking Jesus what was to be done with her, they were hoping to trap Jesus into saying something contrary to the Law of Moses. Jesus, at first, refused to answer and, instead, stooped down and began to write on the ground. However, as they persisted in their demand for some response, Jesus stood up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone...” (John 8:7) This is how this verse is typically remembered and quoted. However, in Greek it reads a bit different. Translating the Greek sentence structure more literally, this passage reads, “He who is without sin among you, the first at her to throw a stone.” (NASB Greek Interlinear). Jesus command to the one without sin was not that they should be the first to cast a stone, but that they should be the first to cast a stone “at her.”

Oftentimes, in the midst of our anger, judgment, and sin, we lose sight of the people who bear the weight of our sins and who are harmed by our unrighteousness. Peter Scazzero, in his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, refers to this as “our shadow.” Our shadow represents the effect our lives have on others. Our attitude, judgments, and behaviors affect others in ways we often don’t see or understand, either for good or for evil. In this story, the scribes and Pharisees, in their rush to condemn Jesus, failed to see the collateral damage their judgmental spirit was causing on the people around them. Their hatred of Jesus blinded their eyes to “her.” The same is often true of us. In our self-righteousness, we fail to see those we are hurting; we fail to see “her.” Jesus wants us to open our eyes, to see our shadow, and to consider the influence and impact our lives, emotions, and behaviors are having on the people around us. If we can do this, then maybe we will become more careful in our own lives; maybe we will learn how to use our shadow for good rather than evil.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Seed for sowing: 2 Cor. 9:10

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is instructing them on how to prepare their offering for the brethren in Jerusalem who are experiencing a famine. Paul then encourages them, saying, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10 NASB). There are two things in this verse that are interesting in the original Greek language. First is the word Paul uses for “seed.” The most common word for seed is the Greek word from which we get our word for sperm. However, here, Paul uses another Greek word from which we get our word for spore. In the Greek, there are two kinds of seed; one for planting and one for sowing. In our Christin life, we must be diligent in planting the seed, which is the word of God, into our lives that it might bear fruit. However, we must also sow that same seed into the lives of others. James writes that “the  seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18 NASB). This is done not only by sharing the word of God but also through our behavior and good deeds. As believers, we are called to plant and cultivate the garden, which is our soul, as we simultaneously sow the seeds of the Kingdom in the lives of others as well.

The second think of interest in this verse in the Greek is the word that is translated here as “harvest.” This word refers to the offspring of reproduction. This should remind us that we can only reproduce in others what we first have conceived within us. We cannot reproduce love in others if we do not have love in us. We cannot reproduce righteousness in others if we do not have righteousness in us. And we cannot sow the seed of the Kingdom in others if we have not first sowed it into our own hearts. The Kingdom life is meant to reproduce, which means that we must first have that life in us before we can share it with others.

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?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dependent upon Jesus: Luke 9:16

In the story of how Jesus fed the five thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread, we read, “Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people.” (Luke 9:16) In the Greek, the verb “giving” is in the imperfect tense, which represents a past continuous action. Here, it is translated as “kept giving” but could also be translated as “was giving.” What is important is that Luke did not use a simple aorist form of the verb, which represents a past point action. Luke did not say that Jesus “gave” the fish and bread to the disciples, but that he “was giving” them to the disciples. The disciples were privileged to participate in a tremendous miracle of God, but that miracle originated with Jesus. Without Jesus breaking and giving the bread and fish, there would be no miracle for the disciples to perform. They were dependent upon Jesus for the miracle and for the means of feeding the multitude with them.

This story reminds me of how, in my daily life, I am dependent upon Jesus. Jesus did not give us all we would need for life and then sent us on our way. Rather, he gives us only what we need now, thus necessitating our continual coming to him for what we need. Daily, and moment by moment, we need him. This truth causes me to ask myself, “Am I trying to live life on my own and by my own wisdom and strength, or have I come to understand that it is only by coming to Jesus that I will receive what I need for each moment and opportunity in life?” The choice is ours. We can either live life on or own or by that which Jesus so richly and generously supplies to those who come to him.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Forgive and release: Luke 6:37

Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37 NIV) Forgiveness is something many of us struggle with. It is harder to forgive, and it is harder to keep forgiving. We often hear people say that we must “forgive and forget.” However, while it is true that God both forgives and forgets, when it comes to us forgiving, scripturally, forgetting plays only a minor role if any role at all. What is interesting in this scripture is that the word translated here as “forgive” is a Greek word that means to “release.” The key aspect of our forgiveness is the releasing of the offending party from any debt they may owe us due to their offense against us. Paul, writing of love, puts it this way, “it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Cor 13:5) While we may not be able to forget the offense, we can release the one who offended us from the condemnation and judgment of the offense. True forgiveness happens, not when we forgive, but when we forgive and release.

This scripture causes me to ask myself, “Is there anything I am holding against anyone else?” If so, it is only in forgiving and releasing that I myself will be forgiven and released by God.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

All this has been given to me: Luke 4:6

After Jesus was baptized, he was led into the desert where he fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights. During that time, the Devil tempted him. In one of his temptations, the Devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the nations of the Earth. He said to Jesus, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.” (Luke 4:6) What is interesting in this verse is the Greek word translated here as “has been handed over.” This verb means “to hand over” and can be used both positively and negatively. For example, Paul uses a play on this word when he writes to the Corinthians, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered [handed over] to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed [handed over] took bread.” (1 Cor 11:23) Here we find this same Greek word used both positively, in handing over this teaching to the Corinthians, and negatively, in Jesus being handed over to the Jews.

With this understanding of this Greek word, we must ask ourselves, “Who was it who handed over, or betrayed, the kingdoms of this world into the hands of the Devil?” One might suggest that it was the Lord who handed them over as part of his judgment against us due to our sins. However, I believe that it was not the Lord who handed them over to the Devil, but rather, it was us. By our own sinfulness, our insistence on following our own way, and by rejecting the morality of God, we have abdicated our place in this world and have handed over our lives and our nations to the Devil. We are the ones who have betrayed our calling and authority to the Devil, and now we are reaping the fruit of his lordship over us and our nations. If I am correct in my understanding of this scripture, then it is incumbent on us to reclaim what we have formerly handed over to the Devil, and we do this by returning to the Lord and his commandments. God said, if “My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr 7:14) It is only by returning to the Lord that we can reclaim that which we have lost to the Devil.

Understanding this scripture in this way causes me to ask myself, “What have I handed over to the Devil, and how can I get it back?” It may not be something as large as a nation, but what I have given away I can reclaim by confessing my sin and returning to the Lord.

Friday, May 31, 2019

A positive greeting: Luke 1:28

In the narrative of the angel appearing to Mary to announce that she would bear the son of God, the angel announces himself to her by saying, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) What is interesting in this greeting is that, in the Greek, the word translated here as “Greetings” is the Greek verb meaning to rejoice and is spoken here as an imperative which, in the Greek, is a command or exhortation. The angle was not simply saying “Hello” to Mary, he was commanding, or exhorting, her to rejoice! His greeting was focused on her and was intended to remind her of God’s favor and blessings in her life and to exhort her to rejoice in the reality of these blessings.

This scripture makes me think of those people I’ve met who are the exact opposite of this angle. When you encounter them, they project a lack of joy and a sense of defeat and despair. They are like Eeyore, whose greeting went something like this, “Good morning… if it is… which I doubt!” They are so consumed with their own problems that they never consider how their greeting could be used to encourage someone else and to be a reminder to them to rejoice in the Lord. They are inward focused and project that focus towards others. This is not to say that we should be hypocritical in our greetings of others, but the truth is that there is always a reason to rejoice in the blessings and favor of God, regardless of how we might feel.

This scripture causes me to ask myself, “When I meet other people, am I a blessing to them, or do I burden them with my own cloudy disposition? In greeting people, do I lift them up or drag them down?” Sometimes, the key to blessing others is to learn to be positive and encouraging when we greet them.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Living out faith and obedience: Luke 1:6

In telling the story of the birth of John the Baptist, Luke notes that both his father Zacharias and his mother Elizabeth were “righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6) What is interesting in the Greek is that the verb translated here as “walking” is not the normal verb for walking. Rather, Luke uses a verb that simply means to “go.” In other words, one could translate this, “they were going in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”

God never meant for us to live our religion hidden away of some secluded cloister fighting our inner demons alone. Rather, God meant our religion to be live in the world, as we went about our daily lives. To live a religious life, we need to live our life; keeping the commandments as we go. It is interesting to note that, in rebuking the religious elite who had a knowledge of religion but not a lifestyle of religion, he counseled them, “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.’” (Mat 9:13) Sometimes we never fully come to understand and appreciate the commandments of God until we go forth to do them. It is in the going that they begin to make sense.

In seeing this scripture in this light, I must ask myself, “To what degree am I truly living the faith I confess or is it merely head knowledge to which I have added my agreement?” Life must be lived, and true life must be lived in the knowledge and obedience of God.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Go tell my brothers: Mat 28:10

On the third day after Jesus' crucifixion, the two Marys went to the tomb see the place where Jesus was laid. However, when they got there, the tomb was open, and Jesus' body was no longer there. As they were leaving, Jesus met the two Marys and said, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me." (Mat 28:10) What I find interesting in this verse is how Jesus refers to his disciples. Jesus uses the Greek word for “brothers,” which can mean a naturally born brother, a fellow countryman, for simply a fellow man. Jesus did not refer to them as his disciples, his servant, or his underlings, but his brothers. We often think of God as our father and Jesus as our Lord, but rarely think of Jesus as our elder brother. Yet the writer of Hebrews says, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Heb 2:11)

Understanding this verse in this manner causes me to ask myself, “If Jesus views us as his brothers and sisters, how should I view others around me?” Jesus told us to be careful of titles and of seeing ourselves as being over or above others. He said, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Mat 23:8) In our western model of church where we so often overlay a business model upon the church with its many layers of authority; with each layer being over another as each layer is beneath another. Within such a model, it is tempting to see people in terms of how they fit into our authority structures rather than simply brothers and sisters. I believe that any church structure or model that erodes the universal brotherhood (and sisterhood) of believers runs counter to the message of Christ. Let us cease looking at others in regard to their position relative to us and let us resume seeing each other as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Choose for yourself: Mat 27:20

When Jesus was on trial, it was the custom of the governor to release one prisoner to the people during Passover. In jail, along with Jesus, was a man named Barabbas, who had committed murder and insurrection. However, “the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death.” (Mat 27:20) What is interesting in this verse if the infinitive “to ask.” Each verb in the Greek language can be spoken with one of three voices. There is the Active voice where the subject does the action. For example, “The teacher taught.” The teacher did the action of teaching. There is the Passive voice where the action is done to the subject. For example, “The student was taught.” The act of teaching was done to the student. Finally, there is the Middle voice. This is where the subject does the action for themselves.

In this verse, the people were persuaded to ask “for themselves” to have Barabbas released and for Jesus to be put to death. This was more than political gamesmanship. This was more than a strategic move to have Jesus put to death. This was a personal decision, on the part of the people, for whom they wanted for themselves. For themselves, they wanted Barabbas.

This verse makes me ask the question, “Who do I choose for myself?” Some choose Jesus because others around them do. Some choose him because their parents did. But do they choose him for themselves? This choice of choosing Jesus or choosing someone else is a very personal choice and must be made, not because others do or because of outside influences, but because we choose him ourselves and for ourselves. This is not a decision someone else can make for us; we must make the decisions ourselves for ourselves.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Honor, value, and price: Mat 27:9

In reading the story of Jesus’ betrayal, Matthew writes that, after Judas had a change of heart, he tried to return the money given to him for betraying Jesus. However, because the money was blood money, the priests would not return it to the temple treasury. Instead, they purchased a field in which they might bury strangers. This was to fulfill the prophecy which said, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me.” (Mat 27:9) What is interesting in this passage is that the Greek word translated as “price” is the same Greek word for “honor.” In fact, one might be tempted to translate this verse as, “the honor of the one who had been honored as set by the sons of Israel.”

It is obvious, in this case, that “price” is a better translation than “honor.” However, what is interesting is, in Greek, honor is related to both value and price. Our honor towards people and things is directly related to both the value we assign to them and the price we are willing to pay for them. For example, if we value our wives and are willing to lay down our lives for them, then we will honor them. However, if we see little value in the people around us, and are not willing to be inconvenienced by their needs, then we will dishonor them in both our attitudes and actions. We will never honor anyone or anything we do not value, and if we do not value them, we will never pay the required price demanded by their value.

Understanding the scripture in this way, causes me to ask myself, “How much do I value the people around me? And what price am I willing to pay for their relationship?” Similarly, “How much do I value God, and how much am I willing to sacrifice for him?” Honor is not some subconscious emotion; it flows from an active determination of the value of other things and it moves us to pay whatever price is necessary for having those things in our lives.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Your will be done: Mat 26:36-46

On the night Jesus was to be betrayed, he and his disciples withdrew to a garden called Gethsemane. Taking Peter, James, and John, Jesus told them to wait and pray, while he went a bit further and prayed thus, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Mat 26:39) Returning, Jesus found then asleep. Waking them, he commanded them to “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation.” (Mat 26:41) Having said this, he went back and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Mat 26:42) Coming back a second time, Jesus found his disciples again asleep. Leaving them to sleep, he returned and prayed the same thing.

What is interesting in this passage is that, in the Greek, the phrase, “Your will be done,” is an imperative (a command). Jesus was not just praying, “What every you want father…” or “If it be your will…” or “You're in charge…” Jesus was actually engaging the will of God and commanding it over his life. Even knowing full well what awaited him, he was so fully committed to God’s will that he was not content to passively wait for it. Instead, he commanded its coming into his life.

This same commanding of the will of God is also found in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mat 6:10) Often, when I pray this prayer, I think of all the positive things that accompany his will and kingdom, such as, salvation, healing, provision, mercy, grace, love, etc. However, I rarely think about what the establishment of his will and kingdom in my life might cost me. Often, the path to God’s will and plan for our lives pass through times of suffering, trial, and pain. Understanding the cost of having God’s will and kingdom in this light causes me to ask myself, “Am I just as committed at commanding the will of God over my life even if it might mean seasons of trial and suffering?” My hope is that, like Jesus, I would. No matter the cost, there is nothing that would be more beneficial nor a greater blessing to my life than having the kingdom and will of God come fully into my life.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

I am desiring but you are not: Mat 23:37

Shortly before his death, Jesus looked over Jerusalem and mourned saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Mat 23:37) In this passage, Jesus contrasts his will with those of the Jews living in Jerusalem. He does this by repeating the verb translated here as “wanted” and “unwilling”. The verb is thelō and means to actively will or to desire. This was not some remote wish in which Jesus thought it might be nice if he could gather the children of Jerusalem under his care. He was actively desiring and willing to do so. The problem was that they, the people of Jerusalem, were actively desiring not to do so. The contrast here could not be any clearer, Jesus was desiring, but they were not desiring.

In this, we see the root of so many of our troubles. Jesus is desiring to draw us close to him, but we are not desiring. Rather we are desiring to go our own way, to be independent, to live our own life. We are like those in the parable that Jesus taught who said regarding their king, “We do not want this man to reign over us.” (Luke 19:14) It is not even as if Jesus is desiring things that would be harmful, hurtful, or in any way in opposition to our best interests. But we still prefer our own will and continue to seek after the things we desire, not those he desires for us.

Understanding this scripture in this way causes me to ask myself, “Do I desire the things God desires or, like those in Jesus day, am I among those who do not desire; one who desires my own desires and does not desire after the desires of God? The key to desiring the desires of God is to grow in our relationship with him and to learn to delight ourselves in him. If we do, he has promised to “give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4) He will not only give us the things we desire, but he will also give us new desires that we might desire after the things he desires for us.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Repentance and Regret: Mat 21:28-31

Jesus spoke a parable of a man who had two sons. He said to the first son, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” (Mat 21:28) But the son said, “I will not.” (Mat 21:29) However, later he regretted it and went into the vineyard. The same man told his second son to go and work in the vineyard, and he said, “I will, sir.” (Mat 21:30) However, he never did. Jesus said that the son who actually went into the vineyard to work was the son who did his father’s will.

The most common Greek word used to describe repentance is the word metanoeō. For example, when Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mat 4:17) Metanoeō is a compound word that begins with the preposition meta which means with or after. Thus, metanoeō means to think afterward or to think differently. Here repentance is a process where we reconsider our lives and our actions. This reflection leads to a change of mind regarding what we view as being right and wrong.

However, in the above verse, Jesus uses another verb to describe the first son’s repentance to obedience. Here the word is metamellomai. This word is also a compound word and also begins with the same preposition meta. This word means to care afterward or to care differently. While metanoeō is a change of mind, metamellomai is a change of heart. The first son went out into the vineyard, not because his mind convinced him it was the right thing to do, but because his heart convicted him of the sinfulness of his previous decision. Sometimes we repent when we have a change of mind, and sometimes we repent when we have a change of heart. Either way, we are led to a repentance which leads to life.

Reading this scripture in this way causes me to ask myself, “Do I engage God only with my mind only or do I engage him also with my heart and emotions?” God wants us to come to him with our whole person, not just with a part of us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Say to the daughter of Zion: Mat 21:5

Matthew relates to us the story of how Jesus, mounted upon a donkey, entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd. Matthew tells us that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who prophesied, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Mat 21:5)

What is interesting in the Greek is the command “Say” is in the second-person plural. In other words, God was not commanding to the prophet to speak to Israel, but rather he was commanding all of us to speak. In southern-speak, this would be “All-you-all say to the daughter of Zion.” This command is to us, not just to the prophet. We are all to be those who proclaim the good news of Jesus coming to those who are searching and waiting for him. We are all to be those who encourage the downcast and lift up the overburdened with the good news of the kingdom.

Understanding this scripture in this light causes me to ask myself, “Do I see myself as the messenger of God, or have I left that work to someone else?” We are all his messengers. We have all be sent and commanded to “Say!” Let us open our mouths and announce to all who will hear the good news of Jesus.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

From the beginning? Mat 19:3-8

One day, some Pharisees came to test Jesus. They brought him the question of divorce. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Mat 19:3) Jesus’ response was to remind them that, in the beginning, God made them male and female and joined them together in marriage. His response to those testing him was, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mat 19:6) The Pharisees objected, reminding Jesus that Moses allowed husbands to simply give their wives a bill of divorce and to send her away. Jesus responds that Moses permitted it “because of your hardness of heart,” (Mat 19:8) but “from the beginning it has not been this way.” (Mat 19:8)

The Greek word translated here as “has not been” is the perfect tense of the Greek word that means to be or to become. The Greeks had four ways to refer to the past. One form is the Aorist which is an action that happened once in the past. It is a previous point action. If Jesus had used this tense, he would have said, “It was not like that at the beginning.” However, here Jesus uses the Perfect tense. The Perfect tense refers to an action which happened once in the past but whose effect continues to be experienced even to this day. In other words, what Jesus was saying is that what God had purposed at the beginning of time is still in force and still makes demands upon our lives even today. The purpose, plan, and morality of God which he set forth at the beginning has not passed away; rather it is still in force today. Societies morals may rise and fall with the passing fads of the day, but the truth of God remains forever. What God has set forth from the beginning is not ours to change at will, but rather transcends our modern morals and fancies.

Viewing this scripture in this way cause me to ask myself, “How much of what I believe and hold to is a result of the eternal and transcendent truths of God and how much is the result of the passing morals of the society around me?” In the end, only those truths that are eternal will remain — those things which have been so from the beginning.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Binding and Loosing: Mat 16:19

After Peter made his famous confession that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus gave him an amazing promise, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Mat 16:19) Much has been made of this verse over the intervening centuries and, I must confess, this verse has always puzzled me a bit. Is Jesus really saying that, on Earth, we are in charge of binding and loosing? Furthermore, what did Jesus mean by “shall have been bound in heaven?”

In the original Greek, the phrase “shall have been bound” is composed of a form of the verb “to be” and a perfect participle of the verb “to bind.” This particular construction in the Greek is used to emphasize an existing condition. Jesus is not saying that whatever we bind or loose on Earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. Rather, he is saying that the reason these keys work to bind and loose is because the things they bind and loose have already been bound and loosed in heaven. Jesus’s word to Peter is not some blank check for us to actuate our own desires and wills here on Earth. Rather it is, in part, the means by which we partner with God to see his Kingdom and will come to be “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mat 6:10)

Understanding this scripture in this way causes me to ask myself, “Am I pursuing the establishment of my own kingdom and will, or am I seeking to establish God’s will and kingdom here on Earth?” The only way we can truly answer this question is to get to know God, his will, and the nature of his kingdom.  Only then will we understand the keys we have been given and know how to use them to accomplish here what has already been accomplished in heaven.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Feasting on crumbs: Matthew 15:26-27

In between feeding the five thousand and feeding the four thousand, Jesus was approached by a woman; not a Jewish woman, but a Syrophoenician woman; a gentile woman. She came to beseech Jesus to deliver her daughter who was severely daemon possessed. Upon hearing her request, Jesus rebuffed her saying, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mat 15:26) However, while agreeing with him, she reminded him that “even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master's table.” (Mat. 15:27)

In this passage, the Greek word translated here as “fall,” as in “the crumbs which fall from the master’s table,” is a present participle of the Greek word, piptō, which means “I fall.” What is significant about this word being used as a present participle is that it represents a present and on-going activity. It could equally be translated, “the crumbs which are falling from the master’s table.”
For this gentile woman, the blessing and provision of God was not a mere concept or some sterile theological idea. The blessing and provision of God was something present and ongoing; something she could see and experience in the here and how. From her perspective, the blessing and provision of God was not something in the future. Rather it was a present reality as was being poured out upon the children of God in such superabundance that its overflow was flowing out to any and all who might wish to receive it. Her statement about the crumbs was not a statement of what might be, but a statement of what she saw was happening all around her.

Seeing this woman’s faith, it challenges me to answer two questions about my own life. First, how do I see God’s blessing and provision to day? Do I see it as some remote possibility or a present-day reality? Often, I find myself praying for God’s favor and blessing, but do I really believe that his blessing and favor are already mine presently and continually? Just as this woman, we are living in the age of God’s blessing and provision and his blessings are being poured out upon who will receive it.

Secondly, how do I view the economy of God in relationship to those whom I deem to be “outside” the family and household of God? Do I see God’s blessing and provision as being exclusive or inclusive? Do I perceive his blessings as being limited to believers or do I see it as overflowing to all, whether they be inside or outside of what I perceive as the family of God? Can I see and rejoice when someone “outside” is blessed by God or am I scandalized when God chooses to bless those who are “not a part of us?” It is right that the children should be fed first, but God’s blessings were never meant to be stopped there. They were meant to flow out to a world of hurting and needy people; to a world that needs God just as much as we do.

I hope this encourages and challenges you. I would greatly like to hear your thoughts on this as well.
David Robison