Thinking Out Loud

August 19, 2020

When the World Baits Us for Knee-Jerk Reactions

Filed under: books, character, Christianity, culture, current events, Jesus, reviews — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:31 am

Review — A Gentle Answer: Our Secret Weapon in an Age of Us Against Them (Nelson Books, 2020)

While 2020 will best be remembered for its top health story, the year will no doubt also be marked by the increase we saw in both online hostility and public protest. There is no middle ground and no room for nuance as things because increasingly more polarized; more black and white.

What is the appropriate response for someone who is a follower of Christ?

Anecdotally, it is not much different than that of the general population, but Jesus — and the whole compendium of scripture — teaches us that as citizens of another place entirely, we ought to formulate a different type of reaction.

When Brant Hansen wrote Unoffendable, which I reviewed here in 2017, one pastor mentioned that this was a topic he had been drawn toward covering, but felt it was no longer needed, as Brant had done an excellent job.

But three years later, the world (and especially the U.S.) finds itself in a situation where it would seem someone was monitoring all the yelling and reached forward to turn up the volume button. From mask-wearing to racism to political candidates, everyone has both an opinion, and an opinion as to why their opinion is correct.

Maybe it’s time for another book on the subject.

Scott Sauls is a name unfamiliar to me even 60 days ago. Someone had asked me about A Gentle Answer but it was a few weeks after that I discovered a previously-received review copy. Around the same time I learned that Scott Sauls had served for many years alongside Tim Keller in New York City and was better known to people in the Reformed community.

There are many similarities between Sauls’ work and Hansen’s; but also many areas where Hansen is more of a journalist and Sauls writes more as a pastor. If I were asked to recommend either one to someone who needs to hear what scripture can teach us about our character in such heated situations, my choice would depend on who the recipient might be. They are equal but different.

Scott Sauls divides his attention between the gentle spirit of Christ which all his followers have experienced (the first three chapters) and how we ought to allow that to change how we respond (the remaining five chapters).

Although the book doesn’t often address the specific issues of the day (of which I mentioned three, above) it is certainly written with social media outrage and public confrontations in view. A few times he reminds us that this is a lesson which Martin Luther King, Jr. knew well; an arena whereby (to paraphrase Paul) we would do well to imitate King as he imitated Christ.

In the title of chapter two, Scott Sauls reminds us that Jesus, “reforms the Pharisee in us;” making us a people who can do anger righteously, receive criticism graciously, and forgive thoroughly.

I’ve posted some short sections from Sauls at Christianity 201 including an excerpt from the book at this link, and also included a shorter section that grabbed me as I wrapped up reading at this link.

I encourage you to also check out scottsauls.com.


Thanks again to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publications in Canada for an opportunity to read A Gentle Answer. I’m going to miss those advance review copies!

August 15, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

Filed under: Jesus — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 am

Today we’re continuing sharing a series from Christianity 201 that was presented there last weekend; a four-part look at the other teaching blocks — since the Sermon on the Mount is so often covered — in Matthew’s Gospel


That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore Then he told them many things in parables… Matthew 13 1-3a NIV

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.This is why I speak to them in parables… Matthew 13 10-13a NIV

Yesterday we introduced “the five discourses” in Matthew, namely, “the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.”

If this is what you think is meant by The Parabolic Discourse, you’ve come to the wrong page!

The third of these, The Parabolic Discourse, has nothing to do with parabolas, in case you were wondering. Rather it is a section consisting of consecutive parables.

■ Take time now to read the entire section in Matthew 13.

R. K. Bingham, writing at GraceOfOurLord.com introduces these. The points below are excerpted from Matthew 13 – Parabolic Discourse1

  • Jesus first tells the parable of the sower in verses 3-9. We are not told about the chronology in the text, but most surmise that Jesus spoke all of the parables from the boat, and the explanation came later, after he went into the house in verse 36…
  • He quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 in verses 14-15, explaining that the difference between them (the disciples that want to learn) and the crowds (those that do not really want to understand, much less accept, the truth) is in their hearts
  • This is followed up by the explanation of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23, which is the key to understanding all of the parables…
  • The parable of the weeds, or tares (verses 24-30), is like that of the net (verses 47-50), and refers to the fate of those who will not accept the truth…
  • The parables of the mustard seed (verses 31-32) and leaven (verse 33) show that the kingdom may be starting very small, but will grow into something very large…
  • The parables of the hidden treasure (verse 44) and the pearl of great value (verses 45-46) demonstrate that those who truly understand the value of our place in His kingdom will be willing to give up anything in this ordinary world in order to attain it.

Jeff Bryerley, writing at Burnside Family Church’s Bible Study page has some more extensive notes on the latter part of the discourse:

Why did Jesus ask if the disciples understood his parables (13:51)?
The disciples were chosen so that they would themselves be teachers (cf v.52 “scribes”) of others. Jesus was only too willing to give further explanation if needed. However, they replied that they understood. They understood (a) the importance of receiving well the kingdom (soils); (b) the humble growing / permeating of a great kingdom (mustard seed, yeast); (c) the consequences of receiving / rejecting the kingdom (wheat and tares, good and bad fish); and the priceless value of Jesus’ kingdom (hidden treasure, pearl of great price)… [L]ater events showed their understanding was not perfect, but it was growing and would be used fruitfully later.

What did Jesus mean “like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old (13:52)?
We believe this is referring to both the Old and New Testaments. The OT is an old treasure in revealing the Word of God and pointing to the coming Messiah. The NT is a treasure, revealing who Christ is, how He fulfills God’s promise of salvation and wraps up history with its eternal consequence. Indeed, Jesus’ teaching shows how the old is to be understood by the new. Michael Wilcox, in the NIV Application Commentary on Matthew, provides further background. The Greek word “oikedespoles” translated here as “householder”, is not just referring to someone bringing out old and new treasures to gaze upon and return to its safe location. The oikedespoles was someone who brought treasures out to be used fruitfully, such as dividing his estate among tenant farmers or to pay wages to his laborers. As Jesus’ disciples we are to be workers “who correctly handle the Word of God” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Why did the people of Nazareth disbelieve Jesus (13:53-58)?

These verses show that Jesus was indeed fully human as well as divine. Before he began his ministry, Jesus led a very quiet ordinary life, albeit “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Indeed, this gives rise to evil suspicion among the townspeople as to the source of his wisdom and mighty works. This was not unlike the Pharisees who with blasphemy attributed the source of his power to Satan (12:22-32). The townspeople declared that Jesus was trained as a carpenter, (not as the student of some great rabbi). Also they note that he comes from a very ordinary poor family. They name his family members including his mother “Mary”, a quite common name. We believe the inference was that he cannot be genuine, that his power was not from a godly source and that he must be some sort of conjurer, an ordinary person contemptibly acting beyond his station in life, in an attempt to dupe them for some ill purpose. Their unbelief limits Jesus’ ability to do mighty works…

Returning to our first author quoted as to why the passage ends as it does:

…The rejection of Jesus in His own hometown resulted in Him not wasting much time there (verse 58). It illustrates very well the points that He made in the earlier parts of the chapter. The hearts of the people there were hardened to the truth and they could not see. The ground of their hearts needed plowing as well.


UPDATE: After this published, a reader wrote to mention that there might be a “correlation in the seven parables to the seven churches in Revelation;” including remembering reading teaching that, “the themes of the parables are in the exact order those general themes were mentioned as characteristics of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.”


1Many of the blogs we use are now running rather firm copyright notices that are leaving us running scared of quoting material at C201 as we’ve done for over ten years now. I think this is a great overview and encourage you to read it in its original form, but I was nervous about simply re-blogging the entire post.

August 14, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

Most of my energies online are now spent with our other blog, Christianity 201. Last weekend, I was intrigued by the teaching passages in Matthew’s gospel, and ended up writing C201’s first 4-part series, which appeared Friday thru Monday. I decided the series was worth sharing here as well…


Ask someone to name a section of Christ’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew and they will invariably answer “The Sermon on the Mount” or “Matthew, chapters five, six and seven.” But that’s only one of five possible answers.

Since I chose to read the Matthew title last, I’m almost finished the collection of the Biblical Imagination Series commentaries on the Gospels, by Matthew Card. He was the one who really drew my attention to the “The Five Discourses” in a way I hadn’t seen before.

But what is a discourse? Dictionary.com says,

  • communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse.
  • a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing, as a dissertation, treatise, sermon, etc.
  • Linguistics. any unit of connected speech or writing longer than a sentence.

But the one thing the dictionary website offers that’s most useful to us is a listing of related words, some of which include:

communication, discussion, conversation, monologue, huddle, homily, chat

Can you guess which one jumped out at me? Huddle. That’s what I see happening here. The coach calling in the key players who will be on the field to discuss the game plan. (I’m not a sports guy, so that last sentence is a bit of a minor miracle.)

I know some are loathe to get their theological points of reference from Wikipedia, but I’ve been finding it somewhat reliable lately, and on this point they begin,

In Christianity, the term Five Discourses of Matthew refers to five specific discourses by Jesus within the Gospel of Matthew.

The five discourses are listed as the following: the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Each of the discourses has a shorter parallel in the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke.

A very small taste of what to expect when you visit Steve’s cartoon panels on The Five Discourses. Click image to link.

Better yet, in a world where visuals aids like The Gospel Project really sparks learning to life, I found a most interesting website where cartoonist Steve Thomason has illustrated all five discourses. (I don’t feel the liberty to copy/paste more than a very small section of one panel here, and can only encourage you to visit this one especially.) The expressions on the disciples faces as Jesus tells them a little about what they might face are priceless. And realistic.

Steve has the discourse/passage beginning at Matthew 9:35 and carrying through all of chapter 10. The first four verses of chapter 10 are the choosing or appointing of the twelve disciples. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there were only twelve. The followers were many.

The real meat of Christ’s instruction to the twelve however starts in verse 5 and continues to the end.

At this point, you need to read that entire section.

For those who don’t click, a few highlights would include:

7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

8b …Freely you have received; freely give.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (all NIV)

Back to Michael Card, he explains why this chapter is so very much worth reading:

Matthew 10 provides a good illustration of what is fundamentally different about this gospel as compared to the others. When Jesus sends the twelve apostles out on their first mission, Mark devotes only two verses to Jesus’ instructions to them (Mk 6:10-11). Luke provides only three verses (Lk 9:3-5). Matthew devotes an entire chapter of forty-two verses. While Matthew may be a selective minimalist in regard to the detail of the story, he is at the extreme opposite when it comes to the words of Jesus. Remember in Mark we have only twenty-two minutes of “face time” with Jesus. In Luke we have fifty-three minutes with Jesus speaking directly to us. In John we have only forty-four. But in Matthew, Jesus speaks to us for more than an hour…

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, p98

If our devotion includes a desire to ‘spend time with Jesus’ then Matthew ought to rank highly in our list of New Testament books.

 

June 16, 2020

The Tomb of the Prophets

This was originally supposed to appear on Saturday at our devotional blog, Christianity 201, but due to a glitch in scheduling, it didn’t go out until I discovered the problem yesterday evening. Again, while I don’t want Thinking Out Loud to simply become a mirror site for C201, I put a lot of work in to this one, and furthermore it was a rare request, in this case from my oldest son. So you get to read it here today.

NIV.Luke.11v47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.

Throughout scripture we find definite definite support for landmarks and memorials. We’ve covered this theme here at least three times previously:

So why do those who built tombs for the prophets show up among the list of “woes” proclaimed by Jesus? Is it suddenly wrong to remember those who have gone before? There must be something else going on.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes that:

The second woe for the scribes is for their support of the slaying of the prophets. Now this woe contains irony: “you build the tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.” They built these tombs, no doubt, to show how they honored the prophets. But Jesus argues that in fact it shows their support for killing these divine agents! By building the tombs, he says, you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did. Here is one of Jesus’ fundamental critiques of the leadership: they have been disobedient as their ancestors were…

The Wikipedia reference for “tomb of the prophets” states,

The Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi… is an ancient burial site located on the upper western slope of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. According to a medieval Jewish tradition also adopted by Christians, the catacomb is believed to be the burial place of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three Hebrew Bible prophets who are believed to have lived during the 6th-5th centuries BC. Archaeologists have dated the three earliest burial chambers to the 1st century BC, thus contradicting the tradition.

Is that what’s referenced here?

As with all adventures in Biblical archeology, the journey is (pardon the pun) rather rocky. One article I read suggested that Haggai was buried near the tomb of the prophets. I think this is an example of a situation where we can get mired in the details — ‘Is this the right city?’ ‘Were they from the same family? ‘Was that the first cup or the third cup?’ — and miss what the passage is there to teach us. We shouldn’t get too caught up in what the Bible does teach us, especially when referenced to a 21st Century online encyclopedia in which many people (including me) have editing privileges.

Matthew’s version of this, in chapter 23, verses 29-32 is more detailed, but for greater context (and since it also mentions tombs) I’ve picked it up here starting two verses earlier:

NIV.Matthew.23v27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

On this Matthew passage, the website BibleStudyTools.com quotes John Gill,

Now our Lord must not be understood as blaming them for barely building the tombs of the prophets, and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous, which they might have done without blame. But because they did all this, that they might be thought to be very innocent and holy men, and far from being guilty of the crimes their forefathers were; when they were of the very selfsame blood thirsty, persecuting spirit; and did, and would do the same things to the prophets and apostles of the New Testament, their fathers had done to the prophets of the Old.

What can we apply from this? The Wycliffe Bible Commentary has an interesting take:

The martyrs of one generation become the heroes of the next. It was easier for the children to build monuments to the prophets than for their fathers to obey them.

And perhaps the tombs were to ‘seal in’ those prophets as The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary suggests:

Although they built elaborate tombs for the prophets, they were really at one with their ancestors who had killed them by making sure they would stay dead. God in His wisdom had foreseen what they would do; their attitude to the prophets and apostles of the church would simply be the culmination of a long history of persecution of his messengers and judgment would follow. (emphasis added)

The International Bible Commentary echoes this,

The only prophets they honor are dead prophets.

This is the constant challenge of scripture and Christian teaching. If certain things are true — in their case it was the words of the prophets — then it may mean that I am going to need to make adjustments to my life.

I love how Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God Study Bible indicated these types of passages using a wrench as a symbol to represent adjustment. (The Bible is based on the author’s “7 Realities of Experiencing God” of which #6 is, “You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.”)

The Life Application Study Bible confirms this, noting in reference to Jesus that even as he is speaking, they are in fact doing the exact same thing. They are choosing not to answer the call for adjustment, response,

God’s prophets have been persecuted and murdered throughout history. But this generation was rejecting more than a human prophet — they were rejecting God himself.

There is always the danger of ourselves doing the same thing: Covering over a situation where our ancestors were complicit in something we would rather forget by appearing to be taking the opposite side. It appears noble, but not when we recognize that motivation is itself incorrect, and not until we realize that the heart attitudes are common to us today and require repentance.

 

May 29, 2020

Those Twelve Disciples Probably Asked, “What Have We Got Ourselves Into?”

During the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for those Bible studies, I do want to share them here from time to time. This one appeared a few days ago…

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed.

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have been so bold to suggest that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.



May 6, 2020

Twelve Disciples Sorted by Categories

Two nights ago I couldn’t sleep. I often recite the names of the books of the Bible, but this time around I was compiling lists of the twelve students of Rabbi Jesus and mentally rearranging them into various sub-categories.

This is content from Christianity 201, where much of my attention has been over the past six or seven weeks. After reaching its 10th anniversary, as I did with Thinking Out Loud, I released myself from the conviction I needed to post daily, but then the world changed and I felt people might need this more than ever. Plus I need to keep doing it right now. This one appeared yesterday.

I’m told that there are gifted preachers who make the genealogies relevant and engaging. We often rush through those, but they are part of God-inspired scripture and full of applications we can miss.

I say ‘students’ or ‘apprentices’ in order to skip over the semantics of ‘disciple’ versus ‘apostle.’ There were actually many disciples beyond these twelve.

NIV.Mark3.16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

NIV.Luke 6.13 …he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14 Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

While I don’t like stereotypes or putting people in boxes, let’s look closer at the list:

Inner Circle (Peter, James and John) – In this group of three we see a leadership position assumed by Peter, possibly because of his age and marital status, but also the intimacy of the relationship between Jesus and John. To function, the church needs core leadership, and even a core-within-a-core.

Brothers (James and John; Andrew and Peter) – No one hates nepotism more than I, but the history of the church, religious organizations, and perhaps even your local church is filled with family histories. Sometimes subsequent generations lack the zeal of those previous, and even within generations, some siblings are more attuned to the purpose, or perhaps carve out a different world. Is not the entire Bible story arc a story which begins with God’s loving promises to Abraham’s family?

Gospel Authors (John and Matthew) – Asked to name the disciples, many an outsider to Christianity will say, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” But only two of the gospels were written by disciples and only three disciples contributed to our modern day Bibles, the other being Peter whose two epistles appear near the end of the New Testament. This however does not preclude that Peter and the others contributed information to Mark’s account and Luke’s account. In an age where print-on-demand is commonplace and everybody has a book to sell on their website, it’s interesting to look back and discover that most of those closest to the action — the twelve students of Jesus — didn’t pursue publishing, even though others did. (Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us – Luke 1:1) If the others wrote — and we know they did produce some written content — their works didn’t make it into the canon.

Unlikely Choices (Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot) – I am sure there were cries of, “What is he doing here?” or “What are they doing here.” The inclusion of people like Matthew and Simon would pave the way for the Apostle Paul, and pave the way for the inclusion of Gentile believers. Sometimes we have difficulty accepting that people are capable of leaving a former life behind.

Disappointments in the Later Chapters (Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, Thomas’ doubt) – Much has been written about Peter and Judas, but as I compiled this, I thought it strange that Thomas is not usually listed in their category. One website described him as “naturally cynical” and skepticism is a still a disease in our day. Why wasn’t he there when the others were gathered and Jesus appeared? My guess is that he was out shopping around his resumé looking for another job. Despite the familiarity of the Peter and Judas narratives, it’s worth noting that elsewhere in scripture there is an emphasis on finishing well. (See this comparison from II Kings in a very old C201 post.) After years with Jesus, how could Judas betray and Peter disavow himself of any connection? Or how could Thomas not be satisfied with the testimony of the other ten disciples? Also, Thomas makes a particular proof requirement of the risen Christ that has sparked many discussions about the nature of Christ’s glorified body and the nature of ours in the age to come.

People with the Same Name (James and James, Simon and Simon (Peter), Judas and Judas) – In a world where people stand out and stake their individual identity it’s often difficult for people to be in a school classroom where there are four Jennifers and five Jasons (among the most popular names in the 1980s.) I include this here because, well, you know who you are! Also, it’s no wonder that the other Judas is often listed as Thaddeus; I would have done the same!

Those Outside the Spotlight (Phillip, Nathanael aka Bartholomew, the other James, the other Simon, the other Judas) – You probably know the reference to “Judas, not Iscariot,” and perhaps have heard a sermon that referenced Nathanael as a man of integrity (NLT) in whom there was “no guile.” (KJV). But the list of twelve is rounded out by some whose contributions are minimal. And how would you like to remembered in history as “James the Lesser” or “James the Less?” (Debate continues as to whether or not this was the brother of Jesus who wrote the Book of James. My understanding is that he was not but was the son of Alphaeus.) Nonetheless, these men also were taught by Jesus and served alongside the others, and like ten of the twelve, tradition is that they died martyr’s deaths for their adherence to the Christ story.

Not Listed – In this list we find the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the other Mary, the other other Mary (a popular name, they must have been Catholic), Clopas, John Mark (who was quite young at this point) and the two nominated to replace Judas. On the latter event we’re told:

NIV.Acts.1.21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

Despite verse 21, one website dared to suggest Matthias had not been a witness to the life of Christ, but the text speaks otherwise. That did however make me think of Paul, whose Damascus Road experience is in the minds of many readers, a direct encounter with Christ. He describes himself as a man abnormally born, which is not a statement of physiology, but that he was simply elsewhere when the controversial Rabbi was teaching and performing miracles in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany. Check out our look at his life at C201 a few days ago.

Then there were the perhaps secret followers such as Nicodemus (aka Nick at Nite) and Joseph, who in offering to bury the body of Christ in his tomb was acting as a type of patron of which there might have been many.

…So where do you fit in this list? As a disciple of Jesus, where would your profile land? Perhaps you’re in a unique category not listed here or perhaps God is waiting to use you in a category that hasn’t been invented yet!


For more on the twelve, check out this article from October 2019.

 

May 4, 2020

Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray Team Up to Look at Jesus

Review: Seeing Jesus from The East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Person by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray (Zondervan, 2020)

One of the challenges when multiple authors combine to cover a particular topic — especially when the individual chapters were not written collaboratively — is that that there is often nothing which unifies the book as a whole. When I started reading Seeing Jesus From the East, I resigned myself to reading it as a collection of nine essays.

Two things have convinced me that this project was so much more.

First, the unifying factor is the man not named on the cover, Nabeel Qureshi. It was his dream to write this book with Ravi Zacharias, but after his untimely death, that was not realized. With Nabeel’s wife’s blessing on Abdu Murray’s involvement, that original intention, in many respects, holds the book together in terms of having two men, each born into very different religious traditions — one being Muslim — examine the life of Christ.

The second unifying factor is that these men are indeed colleagues. Murray is the Senior Vice President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and has spoken at many RZIM events. The book is not disjointed in any respect; rather, they refer to each others’ chapters, something you don’t see in an essay collection. (For the record, Ravi wrote five chapters and Abdu wrote four.)

The Jesus story — not to mention the story arc of the Bible as a whole — is deeply rooted in the East. As Murray points out, it’s a story flavored more with “curry and cumin” than the “ketchup and mayo” version propagated by the Christian church in the West. Elsewhere he refers to the “olive skinned” Jesus.

And although we sometimes present the gospel as a story of guilt and innocence it unfolds in a place where the key markers are honor and shame.

The style of the two authors is notably compatible. I’ve never heard Ravi Zacharias speak that he doesn’t quote the writing of a piece of classic poetry or a famous hymn. But Abdu Murray also provides these similar points of connection for the reader. Both draw on personal anecdotes and interactions with the widest variety of people at in-person events. The flow between chapters washes away all my concerns that the book might appear as though various puzzle pieces were simply forced together.

Seeing Jesus from the East doesn’t cover every moment in the 3+ years Christ’s life. It’s possible your favorite parable or miracle isn’t included. What you do explore is pivotal scenes from the wedding at Cana to the wilderness temptations to the transfiguration. Although I have a lifelong familiarity with these narratives, I found it provoked fresh discussions with my wife after I had finished reading.

So who is the target reader for this book?

Statistically speaking, this will probably sell more copies to Christians, especially those with exposure to RZIM. But it really works both ways. Regardless of faith family of origin (be it Muslim, atheist, or anything else) if someone is already at the point of considering Christianity, this would be an excellent window into that process from two authors who can fully empathize.

This is not apologetics in the traditional forms (evidential, moral, logical, philosophical) but a more winsome apologetic based on the authors’ personal stories and the stories of the many whom they have encountered. If your sphere of influence includes those coming from an Eastern worldview, this one is a must.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a much-appreciated opportunity to read an advance copy which is now well-marked and underlined. The book released April 28th in North America and will release on June 14th in the UK.

 

 

April 4, 2020

Songs for Good Friday | Songs for Communion

For the past decade, I’ve linked to or included songs at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201 which are cross-focused, appropriate for a Communion Service (Eucharist) or Good Friday. There are also a number of songs we’ve done individually or as part of a worship team. I’ve never attempted to gather them all in one place.

These are not the top songs which come to mind for many of you, but ones which I thought might be lesser known, or are more lyrically rich. There are a number by UK artists, and I feel the lyrical depth we get from songwriters there exceeds the output we see from writers in Nashville. I have however included a few you should recognize.

This is the first time I’ve embedded a playlist — not a single video — so to keep it playing you either need to keep this blog page open, or click the YouTube icon to transfer the action directly to YouTube. Right now there are 21 songs, so if you want to have this playing in the background, you should be good for 90+ minutes.

Again, these are not “Easter songs.” A few of them move to the resurrection, but the idea was to focus on the arrest, trial, scourging, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

If the player does not open properly here is the link.

December 14, 2019

Currently Reading: Jesus by Max Lucado

Though not slated for release until late into January of next year, I wanted to make you aware of this book now. I usually choose books more esoteric or eclectic than the somewhat mainstream work of Christian bestselling author Max Lucado, but was sent a copy of Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name (Thomas Nelson) and decided to check out a chapter or two.

Immediately I was struck by how deserving Lucado is of his massive sales appeal. He didn’t get his reputation by accident; it was well earned.

In this book, portions of his other works have been woven together seamlessly to create chapters focusing on various elements in the timeline of Christ’s earthly ministry. Yes, some of the chapters are from individual books, but others involve material from four or five different titles.

I’m just past the one-third mark, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say closer to the January 21st release date, but if an author could have a “Greatest Hits” collection, for Lucado, it would be this book. 

Also, add this to the list of “first” books for a new Christian.

June 26, 2018

Who Says a Parable Can’t Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:34 am

While most of the articles here are original, the ones at Christianity 201 come from “beg, borrow or steal” sources. I do however try to write one myself at least once a week. That was the case yesterday, prompted by a comment on a forum. (Apologies to those of you who subscribe to both blogs.)

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

In a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 reads: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to either compare or contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.) A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping. This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.) In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.

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