Archive for January, 2010

Why aren’t the disciples allowed to tell that Jesus is the Messiah?

January 28, 2010

Reference: Matthew 16:20

Question:

Why aren’t the disciples allowed to tell that Jesus is the Messiah?

Answer:

In the verses preceding Jesus’ command to the disciples that they should not tell anyone that he is the Messiah, we see two very good reasons why they shouldn’t.  In short, even if the disciples (namely Peter) are correct in their belief that Jesus is the messiah, that does not necessarily mean that they have any understanding of what that really means.  Following Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus points to the fact that Peter did not come to this conclusion on his own (Matt 16:17).  Rather, it was from God that Peter understood this.  Without the Holy Spirit it would be impossible for the disciples to proclaim the truth about Jesus.

Thus, Jesus is basically saying, “hold off for now” but it’s only a few chapters later that Jesus is saying, “go tell the whole world”.  In chapter 16 however, they’re still not ready.  They still don’t have the full story about the Messiah, i.e. Jesus’ death and resurrection, and they still don’t have the Holy Spirit to sustain them in spreading that message.  Peter proves this only a couple verses later when he rebukes Jesus saying that he would never be put to death or raised to life (Matt. 16:21-22).  Unlike Peter and the disciples, we do have the whole story, and we do have the gift of the holy spirit, so to us Jesus does not say “don’t tell,” to us he says “tell everybody!” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Advertisements

What did Jesus mean when he said “many here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom?”

January 27, 2010

Reference: Matthew 16:28 “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Question:

What is this talking about? Is Jesus talking about his resurrection or about the 2nd coming?

Answer:

This question calls for me to use my favorite pseudo academic phrase.  Here it comes….are you ready?… “scholars have been debating this question for ages.”  There I said it, and it actually made me feel a little smarter, though it probably didn’t change the reality of my condition.  All that to say, I can tell you what I think, but there are other people who are way smarter than me who have come down on every side of this debate.

Let me cut to the chase, I don’t think that Jesus is talking about his resurrection here, nor do I think he is talking about his 2nd coming.  It seems unlikely that Jesus would say to his disciples and the others gathered there that “some” of them would be alive at his resurrection, especially since it only happened about a year or less following this event.  Similarly, it is unlikely that Jesus would be talking about the second coming because that hasn’t happened yet, and all the men and women who he was talking to are now dead.  Thus, Jesus must have been referring to some other significant event.  But what?

The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 70 AD.

The statement is an eschatological one.  Thus it has to do with the coming of God’s kingdom, and the end times.  But note that Jesus does not say that, “they will see the Son of Man coming INTO his kingdom”, it says “they will see the Son of Man coming IN his kingdom.”  That little preposition is important.  It means that Jesus’ presence will be here IN his kingdom as it is made manifest here on earth, it does not mean that his kingdom is here and Jesus is coming INTO it.

So what significant event could Jesus be talking about here.  Clearly Jesus is referring to something that some of the people listening to Jesus will experience, but others will not.  It is toward this that I submit the 3rd interpretive option, the view that Jesus is referring to the distraction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD  This was an historically and escheat logically significant event that occurred about 40 years after Jesus spoke these words to the disciples.  Thus, many of those who were there would have lived to see the day that Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.  Jesus himself predicted this very event in Matthew 24.  This event was significant in that it closed the chapter on Temple worship which was no longer necessary.  Jesus had become the temple, and his Holy Spirit had now been given to us, thus the temple was present with us and in the church.

Therefore, when the Temple was destroyed it was a powerful, eschatological, signifier that the kingdom of God was coming into the world, and Jesus is “IN his kingdom.”


What does the strange story about Judah and Tamar reveal to us about God? Why is it in the bible?

January 23, 2010

Reference: Genesis 38

This is one of the stranger texts in Genesis, but it is nevertheless a very important story in broader scope of scripture.    This story has much to do with the broader redemptive history of Israel, and the world.  “How so” you ask?  Because the Savior, Jesus was a direct descendant of Tamar’s son Perez who was born out of this prostitution and deception (see Matthew 1:3).   The story of Judah and Tamar once again shows us that God uses broken people to bring about his perfect will.

Judah unwittingly solicits sex from his daughter-in-law Tamar who was pretending to be a prostitute.

In case you were wondering why Judah says that Tamar was more “righteous than I“. He does not mean that Tamar was righteous, in the sense of holy and perfect.  He means that she was more within her rights to act the way she did, than Judah was in acting the way he did.  In other words, he is acknowledging his guilt of not giving his 3rd son Shelah to her as a husband, which he had promised to do.  It was right of Judah to make that promise because he was trying to take care of her as a widow after his son had died, and because it would allow her to produce an heir.  But Judah did not make good on that promise, and Tamar knew he did not intend to, so she acted shrewdly to protect herself, even though it meant committing what we would call ‘sexual sin’ today.

Remember, this was an ancient culture with different laws and customs concerning marriage and inheritance.   It would not be appropriate for us to view this situation through the lense of our own cultural understanding.  But that should not keep us from seeing the way God moves, and the way that his redemption is ultimately brought about.

God was present in this situation because he protected Tamar in a world where widows are often left uncared for, and in doing so he allowed her to produce an heir that would ultimately lead to Jesus Christ.  This text also is a rarity in ancient literature because it exemplifies the woman, while looking poorly upon three men in the story. Judah and his two ‘wicked’ sons Er and Onan are portrayed very badly in the text.  Yet Tamar is actually mentioned in Matthew’s Genealogy (see Matthew 1:3).  Mentioning a woman in a genealogy is almost unheard of in first century genealogies.

Furthermore, dispite Judah’s sin, God still moved.  Isn’t it interesting that it is through Judah’s line that the savior would come, and not through his brother Joseph.  Joseph was a great handsome hero of Egypt, whose parallel narrative is far more captivating than Judah’s.  Yet God’s son came from Judah’s line not Joseph’s.  We should all remember this whenever we think we don’t measure up, when we think we have made too many mistakes to make a difference, or when we think others outshine us.  Judah was seemingly not special at all, yet it was Judah who convinced his brothers to spare Joseph’s life (Genesis 37:26-27), which in turn would allow Joseph to save the whole family of Israel from drought many years later (Genesis 45:4-8).  God always knows what he’s doing, and he can use anyone to accomplish his will.

Questions about the psalms of David?

January 19, 2010

What do David's Psalms tell us about David, and us?

Question 1:

The Psalms of David seem to bounce back and forth between praising God for taking out his enemies, and then asking God where he went when his enemies are defeating him.  Who was attacking David?

Answer 1:

Like most people throughout the course of their lives, David experienced highs and lows.  There were times when he felt like he was victorious and things were going well, and there were times when it seemed like the whole world was crashing in around him.  David’s first attacker was King Saul.  David had been hired by Saul as a musician in his courts.  But following Saul’s rejection as King by God and David’s famous defeat of Goliath it slowly became clear to Saul that David would be a rival to his throne because he was so loved by the people.  David became a fugitive and was pursued by Saul (1 Samuel 19 see also 2 Samuel 3:1).  It was in the midst of this that David wrote many Psalms that spoke both of his triumphs and his defeats (see intro to psalm 18).

David was also a great warrior king, in fact David spilled so much blood during his reign that God would not allow him to build the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.  The primary enemy was the Philistines, but also included the Moabites, the Edomites, and other enemies of Israel.  David was victorious in almost everything that he did but he had trials too (see intro to Psalm 56)

Sadly, one of David’s final enemies was his eldest son Absalom, who rebelled against David to take the throne (see Psalm 3).

Question 2:

How should the Psalms be viewed? David comes off as prideful and unloving at many times. Building himself up in the sight of God. My thought was that they should be viewed as a study of how stress and constant anguish can take its toll on a person, and how humans cry out for vengeance, while God cries out for love. What’s the dilly?

Answer 2:

There is a bit more going on in this question.  The first issue “how should the Psalms be viewed?” is a question about interpretation.  It is important that we view the Psalms for exactly what they are, poems.  Some of them are songs, some of them are prayers, others are expressions of wisdom, while others are liturgies used for worship services.  Just like songs today, they capture the most raw emotions of the human spirit, and they run the range of human emotion.  One of the great things about the psalms is that they can help us find words for our own circumstances today.  If David seems prideful in one psalm and depressed in another, this does not advocate these feelings as virtues, rather, it speaks to issues and feelings that all people experience, and it reminds us that we can go to God as we are.

I would not be too quick to say that the psalms of David are a commentary on human anguish or a cry for vengeance, nor would I want to suggest that humans are all about vengeance while God ‘cries out for love’.  The narratives in 1 & 2 Samuel help us with the commentary of the psalms.  In 1 Samuel you see that David actually had mercy on Saul (his greatest enemy), sparing his life on multiple occasions (1 Samuel 24 & 26).  David never murdered Saul, Saul killed himself.  Similarly, David asked that his son Absalom not be hurt when David’s army went out to meet him (2 Samuel 18:12), and David grieved over his loss when Absalom was killed (2 Samuel 18:31-33).  So it must be more than a simple commentary on the vengeful nature of humans.  Likewise, it is God who is enables the victories of David (see 2 Samuel 5:9-10) so we cannot make such a simple commentary that God is love and humans are vengeful because God helped David win some bloody battles.  While God certainly is a loving God, he is also a God of justice, vengeance, and wrath (see post on Atonement).  Those are the ones that no one ever wants to talk about.

In Genesis Why did God appear in 3 men? Sign for trinity?

January 17, 2010

It is debatable as to why God appeared in 3 men to Abraham in Genesis 18.  Tradition, especially Eastern Orthodox tradition, holds that this visitation was representative of the trinity.  But there has been debate over the subject since the earliest Christian theology.  Augustine believed that God’s appearance here was representative of the trinity, siting that there is no hierarchy.  However, others note that when the visitors go to Sodom to warm Lot, only two go and they are called angels.

No matter where you come down on the issue though it doesn’t not take away from the important part of the text which is that God met with Abraham again and confirmed his promise with him.

Andrei Rublev’s (1360-1427) icon “Trinity” depicts Abraham and the three visitors in Genesis 18. It is the most famous christian icon and is considered the greatest work of Russian art.

Present suffering in the midst of Jesus’ promises.

January 15, 2010

Question:

Jesus says that God knows what we need and will give us what we need. Why do then so many children, christians suffer from hunger… ?

Answer:

Yikes!!!

I wish there was an easy answer to this one.  Even theologians spend years on trying to figure out the complexities of suffering, especially suffering of the innocent.  There is an answer, but unfortunately it would take volumes to do it justice, so what I’m about to do would probably make my theology professors cringe, but I’ll give it a shot anyways…

Haiti Broken: If God promises provision, than why do so many experience poverty, tragedy, and lack?

The issue of suffering coupled with the (seemingly) contradictory promises of provision that we see throughout scripture have to do with two (for the sake of time) very weighty Theological topics, namely, Sin and eschatology.  I’ll start with the first word since we hear that a lot more often…

Sin:  Sin is missing the mark, a fall from perfection, or more pointedly, a separation from God.  It is something much bigger than the ‘bad things’ we do from day to day.  What we often fail to realize when considering Sin and the Fall of humans in Genesis 3 is that the consequences of that Fall weren’t just personal (having to do with individual lives) they were cosmic (having to do with everything in the universe).  Not only did Sin, deceit, and evil become a part of human nature, but sin crept into nature itself.  As God said in Genesis 3, because of what Adam and Eve did the ground was curses as well.  Nature, creation, the entire cosmos were infected with a brokenness that we all still experience today.  Take for example what we saw this past week in Haiti, the brokenness of our planet, the poverty of our brothers and sisters, the chaos of disaster.  These are not the results of some 200 year-old Haitian deal with the devil as Pat Robertson would suggest.  However, they are the result of the brokenness that exists in this world, a brokenness that is the direct result and consequence of our original separation from God.  The ramifications of sin are Cosmic.  Hence, innocent children are the poorest of the poor; nature seems to turn against us, rather than being a gift to us; and yes, bad things happen to people who do good things.

Eschatology: Enter Jesus, onto the scene of a broken world cosmically torn apart by Sin.  Eschatology is the theological study of the end times.  Bad theology over the years has painted a doomsday picture of the end times, and for some, it is true that the return of Christ, and the end of this age will not be a good day.  But at its core, the return of Jesus, and the end of this age is actually our greatest hope.  Jesus taught us to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”  That is an eschatological prayer.  A prayer that looks to the coming of God’s reign and rule when all that is wrong will be set right, all that is broken will be fixed, all that is tainted by Sin will be redeemed.  It is the time when the cosmos (and our individual lives) will be set right, and we will be made whole again.

So why do I mention this in light of Jesus’ promises in Matthew 6 that he knows what we need and will provide for us?  Here’s why…  Jesus was an eschatological preacher.  He came with a message that said the time of renewal is coming, and I am the one who will usher it in.  Matthew’s gospel is a perfect example of this teaching from Jesus.  Note all the times that Jesus talks about the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of heaven” he is referring to the ultimate reign and rule of God that will set all things right.  So you ask, “if Jesus came, than why do things still suck so bad?”  Good question.  The reason is as follows…

Already (but not yet):  The Kingdom of God has ALREADY COME, but it is NOT YET HERE in its fullness.  This element of eschatology is often referred to as “The Already but Not Yet”.  As my seminary professor used to say, we live in the overlap of the ages.  In other words, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in powerful change in the world by his coming, but that change has NOT YET reached its fulfillment.  Jesus has ALREADY freed us from our sin, but NOT YET do we live in a world without sin.  Perhaps most significantly, Jesus has ALREADY conquered death through his resurrection, but NOT YET have we experienced the same freedom from death (though we will).

All that to say, when Jesus says something like he does in Matthew 6:28-34 (below) about God’s care for us and his provision for us, we must understand this within a framework of eschatology.  Even in that passage he urges that even before we think about our physical needs we should “seek first the kingdom”.  In other words, that is where our real hope is.  God will care for us, but for some of us that care may not come until Christ comes again, think of all the children and good christian people who lost their lives this week in Haiti.  Are we to call God a liar because he did not provide for them?  Of course not, for in the last days God’s perfect justice, perfect love, and perfect restoration will set all things right.

That said though, as followers of Jesus, we must avoid at all cost the attitude that everything will be taken care of in the end, so I don’t have to care about the world now.  Wrong!  Before Jesus left he commissioned his Church and sent his Holy Spirit to empower the church to go into the world and start doing the work of the Kingdom right now.  After all, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in the kingdom, so the church has a responsibility to do the business of the kingdom, and that business is restoration.

Haiti is so poor that most Americans who were there were missionaries who felt a call to serve them.

I am amazed as I watch footage of the earthquake victims in Haiti that almost all of the Americans who were there were Christian missionaries.  These are people who know the business of the Kingdom.  They bring Jesus into the homes of the poor and the powerless, and in doing so they bring with them a kind of realized eschatology, or glimpse of end time restoration right now.  That is what we are supposed to be about.  Christians and children will continue to suffer from hunger, so Jesus says to the Church, “go take care of them, be my hands and feet, be the Kingdom come, right now and I’ll do the rest.”  We the church and the Holy Spirit, need to be the ALREADY and Christ will return with a big bang, but NOT quite YET.  That’s why he says in Matt 6:34, “don’t worry about tomorrow” (below) because he’s got it taken care of.

28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Did Jospeh and Mary have sex after Jesus?

January 13, 2010

Question:

I was reading in Matthew 1:25 that Jospeh and Mary didn’t lay with one another until the birth of Jesus, so my question is.  We know that Jesus had siblings and it is implied that Joseph and Mary had sex according to Matthew 1:25, why do Catholics insist that Mary never had sex ever?

In matthew 1:23
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

Answer:

Mary is a very important figure in our faith, but it is important that we do not regard her more highly than we ought.

Yup.  I’m sure that the blessed mother and Joseph did their wild husband and wife thing after she had given birth to the Son of God.  Though I would imagine that they waited approximately 6 weeks in accordance with their doctor’s recommendations.

As you mentioned, Jesus did have other brothers and sisters.  The catholic tradition concerning the perpetual virginity of Mary has to do with a couple things.  One, catholics hold Mary in very high esteem, some merely in a Saint-like status, others likening her to a kind of deity.  This tradition existed from early church history some even believing that Mary was more than just a righteous woman, but a woman so beautiful that God himself was smitten with her.  Two, because of the low regard of the flesh, and sexual intercourse, as a result of the dualism of ancient Greek culture (i.e. soul = good, flesh = evil) it would have been hard for some early Christians to imagine that Mary had engaged in such a carnal activity as sexual intercourse.  This of course has hints of heresy all over it, it contradicts what we find in scripture (as pointed out above), and it disregards the high esteem that scripture holds for sex within the context of marriage.

Mary was not a deity, nor was she sinless, she was a young woman who was living her life in pursuit of God, and as such, she was blessed with one of the most unique and important blessings any woman has ever known.  But this blessing did not come without pain and suffering.  Like many other women who have experienced the tragedy of losing a child, Mary had to watch her own son butchered on a Roman torture device.  And while we believe that he rose again, the experience of watching her son executed must have been the most heart wrenching moment of her life.

Jesus did have brothers and sisters though (e.g. see Matt. 12:46, 13:55) and they weren’t born of a virgin, so you can do the math on that one. Some catholic scholars try to explain this away by calling into question the meaning of “brothers” in these texts, but these arguments come off as quite a stretch.

Why did God choose circumcision as the sign for his covenant?

January 12, 2010

When I was about 15 I watched a funny satyrical twist on Robin Hood called “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” by Mel Brooks a famous Jewish writer and comedian.  As in most of his movies Mel Brooks had a cameo appearance, this time playing the roll of “Rabbi Tuckman” replacing the well-known role of Friar Tuck.  In his role Rabbi Tuck came around peddling circumcision to Robin Hood and his merry men (in tights).  The result led to another hilarious decent into Mel Brooks hilarity that you can read here.  The scene certainly would leave most wondering, “what was God thinking when he came up with the covenant sign of circumcision?”

Circumcision may or may not have had religious or hygiene significance before the time of the Covenant with Abraham, but neither past religions significance or hygiene are the significance here.

Circumcision has to do with a uniting of the spiritual and the physical.  In other words, what is said must also be done.  Circumcision was dramatic, but it created a radical sense of belonging.  “Circumcision announces that Israelites belong only to this community and only to this God.”  Circumcision is weighty, it represents a radical committed faith.  Furthermore, it speaks to something deeper.  Throughout scripture, and culminating in Romans 2:29, we see that Circumcision is more than just the outward, it deals with the inward.  The phrase ‘circumcision of the heart’ speaks to a deeper connection then just a physical sign.  It represents a “yielding [of] affections and will to [God].”

Quotes from Walter Bruggemann’s Interpretation commentary on Genesis, page 155.

Every other year it seems that medical professionals offer different recommendations about circumcision, but God's intent was deeper than hygiene.

“I haven’t seen faith like this is all Israel!”

January 12, 2010

Question:

In Matthew 8:10 Jesus said that:”… I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!”  Since Jesus is God he’s been present since the be beginning of all time, does that mean the there’s never been somebody in Israel with faith like this officer?

Answer:

There are two things going on in this question.  One is a question of Jesus’ omnipresence (presence everywhere all the time), and one is a question of the centurion’s faith.  But what is the verse about?  That is the most important thing.

Jesus uses the Centurion as an example of great faith.

There is no doubt from scripture that Jesus was omnipresent God, present from before the very beginning.  In John 8:58 Jesus says, “before Abraham was born, I am”.  This is not only a statement of Jesus’ deity, but of his presence all places at all time.  But Matthew 8:10 is not a moment where Jesus is trying to emphasize his omnipresence, rather it is a moment where he is trying to emphasize the centurion’s great faith.  The response of people hearing Jesus say these words would not have been, “wow, this guy must really be faithful because Jesus is God and he would really know who the most faithful person in history is.”  No, their response would have been, “really?!?! a gentile? a roman centurion has greater faith then a jew?!?”  Jesus statement has shock value because he is not only pointing out that a non-Jew can have real faith, but he is also indicting the Jew’s around him who have not seen him for who he really is.  Instead, the least likely of people has correctly identified Jesus as the God and Lord that he is.


Jacob, Esau, and the short comings of biblical parents.

January 12, 2010

Question:

Isaac favored Esau.  Rebekah favored Jacob.  Isaac and Rebekah didn’t love both of their sons equally?  Rebekah told Jacob to put on Esau’s clothes so that he can receive Esau’s blessings from his father.  Why didn’t God stop Jacob?

Answer:

It is fairly obvious that Isaac and Rebekah did not love their sons equally.  This is nothing new though, Noah clearly showed favor to Japheth and Shem over Ham, Abraham showed favor to Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob infamously showed favor to Joseph over all his other brothers.  Remember that these men and women were not perfect people, they were sinful humans who had wills of their own.

Isaac Blessing Jacob Gioachino Assereto, 1640

Rebekah even stooped so low as to deceive her husband so to advance her own will and see that Jacob would get the blessing from Isaac.  God did not stop Jacob for a couple reasons.  First of all, we are not puppets and God is not a puppet master, God allows us to make decisions that are deceitful and evil, but he also allows us to make decisions that are righteous and ultimately glorifying to him (learn more about God’s will and our will here).  Secondly, God can accomplish his will despite our deception and evil.  Esau may have deserved the blessing by birth right, but he was also an impulsive glutton who had already traded away his birth right to Jacob for some soup (see Genesis 25:29-34).  God had his reasons for allowing this deceit to take place, and ultimately God’s will would be done even in the midst of it.  As you continue to read the story, you see the way that God establishes his people through the line of Jacob.  And as Jacob’s son Joseph says to his brothers at the end of Genesis, “what you meant for evil God meant for good,” this is also the case with Jacob and many others in scripture.