Why is the whole family punished for one man’s sin?

April 15, 2010

Reference: Joshua 7:19-26

Question:
Throughout the readings in the Old Testament we could see that God not only punished the one who failed, he punished the whole family (e.g. Achan’s family). Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness?

Answer:
In the incident of Achan sin we are reminded that sin is not simply something that inflicts the individual, but the family and the community.  Western society is very much a culture of individualism.  It is a culture where the success of the individual is almost always valued above the success of the community; each individual is allowed there own idea of what ‘truth’ is; and when it comes to consequences, we always focus on the punishment of the individual rather then that of the community.  But I recall a very different approach when I was in elementary school.  Often times if only one or a few people were misbehaving in class the whole class would receive a punishment, e.g. no recess, extra homework, etc.  “That’s not fair!” we would protest.  But it didn’t matter, the teacher was the boss, and at the end of the day, the class was better for it… the trouble makers learned their lesson, and our little community (the class) slowly learned to hold each other accountable instead of looking out for number 1.

In this passage, it wasn’t just Achan’s family that was punished but the Nation of Israel of Israel as well.  Earlier in the chapter we see that Israel was “soundly defeated” in battle with the town of Ai.  Thus, the sin of one man affected not just him, not just his family, but the entire community.  Later on Joshua systematically discovered who the culprit was, the man named Achan.  But again, it was not only Achan, but his whole family that suffered the harshest of punishments.  God made an example of one family for the sake of the whole nation.  We don’t know if Achan’s family had taken part in the theft of the some of the ‘dedicated things’, the text doesn’t say.  But even if they had not, this stands as a reminder that we do not stand alone, but in family and community.  When one suffers, we all suffer.

Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness? The second part of this question is much easier to answer… “no and yes“.  First of all the ‘no’.  We need to remember that the punishment for sin, death, has already been dealt out when Jesus received the punishment on the cross.  Furthermore, that punishment was rendered powerless, without “sting” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:55), because Jesus rose from the dead, effectively conquering death forever.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t still holy and just.  Jesus death on the cross didn’t change God.  It simply allowed us to approach him as righteous people.  But look at the incident in Acts 5 where Ananias and his wife Sapphira died instantly when they lied about withholding money from the church.  Both husband and wife were culpable for the crime, so we cannot draw the conclusion that God still operates in the same way as he did with Achan and his family.  Each of us is responsible for our own denial of or submission to God’s will.  But who of us in any family could say that our lives are completely aligned with God’s will, or that we have never strayed from his ways.  Thus, in the Old Testament when a whole family suffered because of one person’s sin, that doesn’t mean that the ‘innocent’ by-standards were not guilty.  Each of us is guilty, but through the cross of Jesus we are made righteous and uncondemnable (Romans 8:1).

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Did God the Father Abandon Jesus?

April 3, 2010

My God my God why have you forsaken me?

Reference: Mark 15:34 (NIV) and Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

Question:
Why on the cross did Jesus cry “My God Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  I realize that Jesus was human as well and I’m sure he felt the enormous pain but he knew all along what and how things were to happen in order to do God’s will and fulfill the scriptures but why would he yell out “Why Have you Forsaken/Abandoned Me?” Why would he EVER feel abandoned by the Father?

Answer:
It is important to reaffirm the humanity of Jesus when considering his Passion.  Jesus knew this was God’s will.  He had predicted it himself many times (Matthew 16:21) and each time he also emphasized that there would be resurrection.  He knew the victory that was to come, and even while he was on the cross he acknowledged to the other criminal that before the end of that day they would be together in paradise (Luke 23:43).  So clearly Jesus knew the plan.

But even though Jesus knew the plan, he still prayed to God the night before his death for God to “please take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).  And we shouldn’t be surprised at that.  You can imagine the emotional turmoil that Jesus physical anguish that he was about to endure.  The question remains though, would Jesus have really thought that God would abandon him, and would God truly abandon his own Son.

The answer is… yes.  That is precisely what happened to Jesus on the cross, he was abandoned by God.  After all, isn’t that what death really is?  We like to say brave words like “death is just another part of life” but is it really?

Actually, when God created the world, Death was not a part of his original design.  Instead death became the punishment that was instituted for the world when Sin entered into it, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  It was only after the Fall of humans that God said “from dust you were taken and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).  You may recall in Genesis Chapter 3 when God killed an animal to make clothes for Adam and Eve.  The death of that animal at the hands of God represents the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, and in the very next chapter we see the death of the first human, Adam’s son Abel.

Death is not something to be romanticized or made light of with pat sayings and trite expressions.  Though we often try to comfort each other in those ways.  At funerals you may hear several people saying things like “God just wanted to take her early so that she could be with Him.”  Sounds nice and sweet, but it’s not true.  If that were the case then she would have gotten scooped up while she was still alive like Enoch in Genesis Chapter 5.  Death isn’t God bringing us to be with him.  Death is his a means of separating unholy us from holy God.  It is a clean separation between God and those who have chosen to do their own will instead of his (that’s everyone btw).  So yes, in a very real way, death is God abandoning us.  Therefore when Christ died, he was experiencing the abandonment of God.  You can count on the fact that for Jesus, who was closer to God then anyone else, this was more painful then crucifixion itself.  Fortunately, all of this comes with a very big BUT.

BUT resurrection.  Death may be the punishment for sin BUT resurrection follows death.  God broke the power of death by raising Jesus from the dead (Hebrews 2:14-15).  Jesus is the firstfruits of this resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), that means there are many more resurrections to come.

I think that one of the greatest fears that people have is not death itself, but abandonment and aloneness.  Likewise, one of our greatest longings is for intimacy.  The reality is that death brings with it the fear of ultimate loneliness, ultimate abandonment, ultimate severing of intimacy.  BUT thanks be to God there is resurrection.  This is THE GREAT HOPE of our faith.

But even though Jesus knew God’s plan for resurrection the pain of being abandoned to death by his own heavenly Father must have been excruciating.  Thus he cried out in a loud voice.  “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which  means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?” (Matthew 27:46).

Not only was this a shear cry of pain and emotion, but it was Jesus being scholarly to the very end.  He spoke the words in Hebrew, not in the common tongue of Greek, or his native tongue of Aramaic.  He spoke in Hebrew from the Hebrew scriptures.  These exact words are from Psalm 22, a Psalm written by King David.  I encourage you to read this psalm, the words powerfully capture what Jesus must have been feeling on the cross.  He knew scripture better than anyone, so he shouted out the first lines of one of the most wretched sounding psalms he knew.  He did this in an effort to convey exactly how he was feeling…  abandoned, alone, forsaken to the point of death…

…BUT resurrection.

Now we can live in the confidence of knowing that resurrection is on the other side of death.  We don’t have to fear abandonment or loneliness because Jesus broke the power of Sin, death, and the devil.  His cry of anguish is our cry of liberation.

If this post raises questions for you about heaven, after life, etc.  just ask.

Did God Sanction Genocide?

April 1, 2010

The destruction of the Midianites in Numbers 31 is a tough truth to swallow in scripture.

Reference: Numbers 31, See also Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 20:16-18

Question:
What is up with the God-sanctioned genocide of the Midianites in Numbers 31? Killing women and children? Taking virgins as plunder? This is the loving and merciful God I’m supposed to be worshiping?

Answer:
I’m not gonna lie folks, it’s ugly.  When Israel moved into the land of Canaan it was a virtual blood bath and yes, our God, the one we praise and worship and try to share with other people, was leading the charge.

In the interest of full disclosure I admit that I’ve been avoiding this question for about 3 weeks now.  But at some point we all need to wrestle with these very hard sayings of the Bible.  As a pastor I often need to deal with the fact that when people misunderstand passages like this, they often misunderstand God, discredit the faith, or discredit scripture.  Then the door is wide open for us to define God the way we want him to be not the way he really is.

So before I look at what is happening in places like Numbers 31, where God and the Israelites wipe out Midianites, I first need to remind everyone of the character of God.  God is perfectly loving, but God is also perfectly just.  It may take a few moments, but eventually you will see the inherent problem in the character of God.  Namely, if God is perfectly just, then he MUST have vengeance on people that he MUST love.  Or you could say it the other way… If God is perfectly loving then he MUST love the people who he MUST punish.

Our tendency is to avoid this conundrum by jettisoning one side of God’s character.  Very naturally many of us truncate our view of God so that we only see the ‘loving’ side of him.  We can convince ourselves that he is worth worshiping if he is a loving God; but we question if he is worth worshiping if he is a just, vengeful, jealous, and wrathful God.  So we put God in a box and then get grumpy when we read in scripture that he lead the genocide of an entire region of people.  “That can’t be God.  God is gentle, loving, and sensitive!”

Before I delve into the passage itself, I propose to you that passages like Numbers 31 are imperative to our understanding of who God is and ultimately what grace is.  If we don’t understand that each one of us deserves to be wiped out just like the Midianites then we can’t fully understand God’s grace.  What makes his grace so AMAZING is that each of us, every person on this planet, deserves one thing… death, BUT we get life.

Now which part of that statement shocks you?  If you are shocked by the ‘everyone-deserves-death’ part, then you have been deceived by the lie that ‘you are a good person who has earned God’s favor.’  What should shock you about that statement is that God extends to you his grace, free of charge.  You and I deserve death, but we get life.  You and I deserve damnation, but we inherit eternity with God.  You and I deserve his wrath, but we get his smile.  That’s grace!  But it means nothing if we don’t understand that we deserve death.  In Numbers 31 we see the hard reality of God’s just character, but also his grace and divine restraint.

NUMBERS 31…

Now that we have dealt with the ‘character of God’ issue that is so hard to grapple with.  We need to figure out the context of this passage and exactly why God went to this extreme.  We could go all the way back to the beginning and talk about ‘Sin’, ‘The Fall’, etc.  but I’m just gonna go back half way.  Several hundred years before Joshua even set foot in the land of Canaan (see map), his forefather Abraham stood in the same place and received a powerful prophetic promise from God.  It was there that God promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 15:18-20), but perhaps more interesting, as it relates to  Numbers 31 and others, was that in verse 16 God said to Abraham, “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites [those people in the land of Canaan] do not yet warrant their destruction” (Genesis 15:16 NLT).

There are a couple important truths that we can draw from these Genesis 15:16-20.

1) God has a plan (see post on Jeremiah 29:11):  Remember, God is loving and just.  By all rights God should just start over again with creation, we are all sinners falling short of his glory (Romans 3:23), furthermore, we all deserve death because of our sin (Romans 6:23).  But God loves those that he must destroy.  This is a God-sized conundrum… thankfully God has a plan to fix it.  In Genesis 15 we see God taking steps and making a covenant that would set things in motion toward a solution.  A solution that would settle this conundrum once and for all (hint: it’s Jesus).

2) Destruction of the People in Canaan was in the Plan: God already anticipates the destruction of the Canaanites in Genesis 15, but he shows restraint.  Even during the time of Abraham, the people of Canaan were wicked people.  They dishonored God, they practiced injustice, they engaged in human sacrifice (even child sacrifice).  You name it, they did it.  But God shows his restraint, saying “their sins do not yet warrant their destruction” (Genesis 15:16 NLT).  The NIV more accurately says, “their sin has not yet reached its full measure.” In other words, God was saying, ‘there sin is bad now, but it’s gonna get worse.” For the time being, God extended his mercy toward the people of Canaan.  Thus, when God does annihilate these people, he is not acting preemptively toward them, it is their sin toward God that has built up over time.  So we shouldn’t be surprised that God comes into Canaan and wipes out the people living there because he promised to do so generations ago if their sin continued.

Perhaps the greater issue in Numbers 31 is the extremity to which the genocide was carried out.  Basically only virgin girls were spared.  That makes it sound not only ruthless, but disturbingly kinky as well.  The situation in Numbers is that the people of Midian had led the people of Israel into the sin of idol worship.  This posed a huge threat to God’s plan.  The people of Israel (from whom Christ would come), were the crucial element to God’s redemption plan.  Thus, God was not only punishing Midian for their sin (which was great), he was protecting his plan (Israel).  Only the female virgins were spared because only they would not pose a threat to Israel’s relationship with God, and even that might be seen as a great mercy.  The virgins were taken as plunder (Numbers 31:32-33), but it was not for some sexually deviant ritual or pleasure, these girls were spared because there was no chance that they could have been pregnant with a Midianite son.  This is ultimately is a sign of God’s mercy.  These women would now be a part of the nation of Israel, part of the promise.

Some may say “if Israel sinned, why weren’t they exterminated as well?”  Obviously all nations have sinned, but caring for the nation of Israel was a huge part of God’s plan so that ultimately all nations might be saved by him, not destroyed by him.  God did punish Israel for their sin with the Midianites.  In Numbers 25 we see that 24,000 Israelites were killed in a plague because of their sin with Midian/Moab (Numbers 25:8-9).   But you might be surprised to learn that there was another time when God DID want to destroy all of Israel after they had worshiped the Golden Calf (see Exodus 32:9-10).  After God’s people had practiced blatant idolatry he wanted to scrap the project and start over with Moses and his descendants.  But Moses pleaded with God to have mercy on the people and God heard him.  All that to say, God does not take sin lightly, no matter what nation it is, even his own people.

Always Remember the Cross  (IMPORTANT!)
At the end of the day, we need to be able to look at a passage like Numbers 31 and shout, “THANK YOU GOD FOR SENDING YOUR SON!”  In this passage we see the great wrath of God.  It is the same wrath that God’s own son experienced on the cross.  Jesus died a brutal death so that there wouldn’t have to be any more Midianite genocides.  Why?  Because he loves us so desperately.  And guess what?!? he loved the Midianites desperately too, but remember he is a just God.  Jesus received the justice that we deserved, even though he was innocent of all sin (2 Peter 2:22).  He did this so that we would not be destroyed if we believe in him (Hebrews 10:39).  Thus we freely receive God’s love without fear of his wrath and justice, because the sentence has already been carried out once and for all.


Like the Midianites, Jesus himself was the recipient of God's wrath. But with him, it was once and for all.

For I know the plans I have for WHO? (Jeremiah 29:11)

March 25, 2010

Reference: Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Question:
I want to know, is this verse for EVERYONE? I mean, does God really have plans for EVERYONE to prosper? Because it seems to me like he doesn’t.  I’m curious as to who Jeremiah was written and the context and all that stuff.

Answer:
This is one of my all time favorite passages.  But before I slip into Bible geek mode I want to clarify that, yes, God does have plans for us and they are plans to prosper us.  God wants our restoration, he desires our healing, he desires our reconciliation.  Sometimes we don’t experience any of that until we see Jesus face to face, but in the end God’s plans will be realized, and the hope we have in Jesus will be a physical reality as well as a spiritual reality (see post on present suffering).

Jeremiah 29:11 is so beautifully articulated through the prophet that we love to memorize it and make it into songs.  That said, it is often misinterpreted because we remove it from its context.  Jeremiah was not speaking to you and me, he was speaking to the people of Judah who were being exiled to Babylon (a long long way from home, see map).  Specifically, he is trying to set the record straight because some other prophets have been giving bad information to the people.  Look at Jeremiah Chapter 28.  In this Chapter we see the prophet Hananiah who is falsely telling the people of Israel that they will only be in Babylon for 2 years.  He’s lying.  Jeremiah (the true prophet) knows that the people will be there longer than one generation (70 years).  That is what Jeremiah 29 is all about.  He is telling the people to settle in, build homes, get married…ultimately the message is be a blessing to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Being a blessing to the people around them is supposed to be the whole mission of Israel as a nation (Genesis 12:1-3), Jeremiah’s message reminds them that their mission doesn’t stop just because they are living in a different place.

Judah (The Southern Kingdom of Israel) was conquered by Babylon and taken into exile.

When the Lord says through Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you,” he is not suggesting that bad things will never happen to the people.  Obviously that’s not true because he is saying it to them right in the midst of one of the most traumatic moments in their history.  No, he says this to them so that they will find peace (“shalom”) in the midst of their trials.  The kind of peace that reminds them that God is in control, that he will not leave them, and that restoration will come.

So what are the plans that God has for Israel? Well, the plans have never changed.  God had promised from the beginning that he would give them land (Genesis 17:8), and that they would be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3), a blessing that we now know is Jesus Christ himself.  The plans had not changed, and God is reassuring them that he knows the plan, an it’s a good one.

So what does this mean for us?  For one thing, it means that we should be seeking to be a blessing to the people around us, our communities, our schools, our under-resourced neighbors.  That’s what Jeremiah was telling the people, that they should be “seeking the prosperity of the city”, and Babylon was their great enemy, wow!  God wants our lives to be a blessing to others, even our enemies.

God is also teaching his people that they shouldn’t be looking for a quick fix.  Quick fixes are the words of politicians and false profits (see Jeremiah 28).  But the people were going into exile for 70 years!!!  You think you’ve got problems?  Try getting dragged from your home by an army into a land that wants to strip you of your culture and indoctrinate your children.  Yet in the midst of such trials, God reminds us “I’m in control”, “I’ve got the screenplay”, “I know the plans”.   The idea that God has plans for us that will give us hope and a future, we also need to be prepared for the fact that their future, their hope, may not be realized until long after we are dead.  The reality is that many Israelites died while in Babylon.  If you left your home when you were 30 years old, you could count on the fact that you were never going to see home again.  BUT, your children will.  For us when we thing of the future we are usually only thinking of our own life, but God sees lives and generations beyond our own.  Remember, he is much bigger than us, so when he says to the people, “I have plans for your future”, he sees a MUCH bigger future than we do.

Lastly, the idea of ‘prosperity’ can be confusing.  The NIV translates the Hebrew word shalom as ‘prosper’ here, the NLT translates it as ‘good’.  Both are true, but neither captures the full picture of the Hebrew word ‘shalom’.  This word is a theologically loaded word that is so much more than a modern Hebrew greeting, more than just ‘peace’, and more than experiencing a good life.  The idea of shalom refers to whole-world restoration, wholeness, fullness, completeness.  It is a communal word that looks forward to the welfare and health of the nation and indeed the world.  It has cosmic implications, not just individual implications.

At the end of the day the truth of this passage (though not spoken to us) should teach us that God is in control.  Even when the situation is as bad as it could possibly get, like it was for Israel at this time, we should trust that God is intimately aware of our situation and that his big-picture plans will not be thwarted.  The sovereignty of God (his incontroledness), should give us great hope.  When it seems like life is falling apart he still holds us close to him, he cares for us, even to the point of death.   Jeremiah 29:11 is a powerful reminder of that hope.

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?

March 24, 2010

"You tell'em Lego Jesus"

ReferenceMark 11:12-14

Question:
Was the cursing of the fig tree on the way to the anger exhibited in the temple throwing out the money changers a foreshadowing? Or a reference to Christ’s human frustration?

Answer:
The incident in Mark with Jesus and the fig tree has everything to do with the nation of Israel.  The fig tree, like the vineyard, was a common analogy for the nation of Israel.  Upon Jesus arrival in Jerusalem and at the Temple he encountered a sight that he despised, and it’s not what you think…

The anger that Jesus showed toward the fig tree, and the anger that he showed when he overturned the tables in the Temple area was a result of what the nation of Israel had become… exclusive.  In other words, it was a place of ethnic hierarchy and separation.  In the  verses following the curse of the fig tree Jesus says “it is written, ‘my house will be a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17).  Jesus here is not expressing his frustration with buying and selling in the temple area, he is expressing his frustration that gentiles have been excluded from the Temple.

The Temple was THE place where worship of God happened in the Jewish faith.  But only Jews could go in, and only Jewish men could go into the inner courts.  This grieved God who had longed for it to be a place for all people to come to him.  Even when it was dedicated by King Solomon himself it was meant for all people (2 Chronicles 6:32-33).

Israel had failed to be the blessing to the nations God had created them to be (Genesis 12:1-3).  But now Jesus would be the one to take that promise and fulfill it.  Later in Mark 11, after they had left the Temple, Peter noticed that the fig tree that Jesus had cursed was now dead and withered.  Jesus answers Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.”  Contrary to the obvious this is not a verse about being able to do all things if we have faith.  The context suggests that it is much more specific.  Jesus is still talking about the Temple.  Notice that he says, “you can say to THIS mountain”.  He is talking about a specific mountain, the Temple mount.  Jesus is suggesting to his disciples that if they place their faith in God that the Temple will become obsolete.  In otherwords, Jesus will take the place of the Temple.  No longer will they need to go to the Temple to worship and be near God.  Instead, ALL people will be able to go to Jesus.

The fig tree is withered – Jesus has replaced Israel as the blessing; the mountain will be removed – Jesus has preplaced the Temple as the place of sacrifice and worship for ALL people.  In 70 A.D. the temple actually was destroyed as Jesus predicted (Mark 13:1-2, see other posts about the Temple).

Begat Beget Begot… Are biblical genealogies important?

March 24, 2010

Question:
Why are there so many genealogies in the Bible? Are they important? What purpose do they serve?

Answer:
Let’s be honest. When reading the bible sometimes we are excited and engaged but other times we are bored out of our minds. Reading through genealogies usually constitutes the latter sentiment. But to be bored by a genealogy you actually have to read it, and most of us skip right over them, don’t we?   You might be surprised to find that genealogies can actually be interesting, and some even have some broader interpretive significance.

There are genealogies for the descendants of 23 people in scripture (you can see them listed below, as recorded in Willmington’s Book of Bible Lists).  Genealogies were kept for the purpose of records and understanding family connections.  Several times in scripture they are referred to as necessary for some type of legal or ceremonial proof, or as historical documents for study (1Ch 9:1; 2Ch 31:19; 2Ch 12:15; Ne 7:5).  Obviously the historical book keeping practices were much different in Ancient Palestine. For example, Genealogies rarely contained women (the fact that Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew contains 5 women is somewhat rare).  It’s important to remember though that the bible is not a scientific document, nor is it a historical document as we understand historical documents today.

The interpretation of genealogies can be an interesting thing as well.  For example, Adam’s genealogy is one of the more interesting genealogies because it lists the ages of the men who lived very long (see previous blog on long life spans).  But perhaps most interesting is the way that this particular list of names subtly highlights one person in particular, Enoch.  Each of the men in that genealogy dies, except Enoch, of whom it is said “he walked with faithfully with God” and then God “took him away”.  What a powerful commentary on the value of walking with God.  And we see it in a genealogy!

In Matthew and Luke’s gospel we find the two genealogies of Jesus.  Each is slightly different, especially for the generations between David and Jesus.  Causing some to refer to the Lukan genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) as that of Mary, and the Matthean genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17)as that of Joseph.  But more interesting is the direction of the genealogies.  Matthew’s genealogy goes from Abraham to Jesus while focusing on David’s line in the middle. But Luke’s genealogy uncharacteristically goes from Jesus back to Adam.  The difference is not insignificant.  Each evangelist trying to communicate different messages with their genealogies.  Matthew’s gospel is emphasizing the redemptive history from Abraham to Jesus, and specifically the royalty of Jesus, as emphasized by highlighting King David.  Thus Matthew’s genealogy screams to the first-century reader, “this is the King,” “here comes the Kingdom of God,” “here comes redemption”.  A message which is very consistent with the themes of Matthew.  Luke’s genealogy however, goes back to Adam, thus emphasizing the humanity of Jesus, the truth that Jesus comes from the first man, like each of us.  It is also a reminder that through Adam sin entered the world, but through Jesus sin will be destroyed.

For the astute reader out there, you will be quick to find discrepancies when comparing the various genealogies.  Give yourself a nice pat on the back for being observant, but don’t worry you haven’t discredited the Bible.  Remember that the Bible is an ancient document written to ancient people (not us), who had different priorities when recording life, history, and ancestry.  Even the infamous genealogical term ‘beget’ is loose enough to skip entire generations (see past blog).   So we should be cautious to proof text genealogies against each other.  Paul warns Timothy and Titus to avoid controversies over genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4; Titus 3:9).  We should probably adhere to that advice as well and simply allow the genealogies to speak the messages they were meant to speak, no more, no less.

The Genealogies of the Bible

1. Cain’s  Gen. 4:16-24
2. Adam’s Gen. 5:1-32
3. Japheth’s Gen. 10:1-5; 1 Chron. 1:5-7
4. Ham’s Gen. 10:6-20; 1 Chron. 1:8-16
5. Shem’s Gen. 10:22-31; 11:10-30; 1 Chron. 1:17-27
6. Abraham’s Gen. 25:1-4, 12-18; 1 Chron. 1:28-34
7. Isaac’s Gen. 25:19-23
8. Jacob’s Gen. 49:1-27; 1 Chron. 2:1-2
9. Esau’s Gen. 36:1-43;1 Chron. 1:35-42
10. Judah’s 1 Chron. 2:3-12; 4:1-4
11. Simeon’s 1 Chron. 4:24-38
12. Reuben’s 1 Chron. 5:1-8
13. Levi’s 1 Chron. 6:1-53
14. Issachar’s 1 Chron. 7:1-5
15. Benjamin’s 1 Chron. 7:6-12
16. Naphtali’s 1 Chron. 7:13
17. Asher’s 1 Chron. 7:30-40
18. Jesse’s 1 Chron. 2:13-17
19. Caleb’s 1 Chron. 2:18-20, 42-55
20. David’s 1 Chron. 3:1-24
21. Ephraim’s 1 Chron. 7:20-27
22. Pharez’s Ruth 4:18-22
23. Jesus’     a. The genealogy of Mary Luke 3:23-38      b. The genealogy of Joseph Matt. 1:1-17

Cited:
H.L. Willmington, Willmington’s Book of Bible Lists (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1987), 118.

What in the world is Jesus talking about in Mark Chapter 13?

March 14, 2010

The Jerusalem Temple, remains of the western wall (

Reference: Mark 13:14-37

Question:
In my understanding, Jesus is taking about the end times in Mark 13:14-37. So how can you explain that Jesus is saying that “this generation” will experience the end times (referring to Mark 13:30) and now almost 2000 years after that this generation is gone and Jesus didn’t come back yet?

Answer:
The fact that Jesus is speaking of the end times is not in doubt, the question is, “what are the ‘end times’?” Often, when we think of the end times we think of the last days of the earth when Christians will be ‘raptured’ up to God and the rest will be ‘left behind’ (you know what I’m talking about). The reality is that we are living in the end times right now and have been since the time of Jesus. Jesus’ on this earth arrival ushered in the beginning of the end times. The end times is the coming of the Kingdom of God and the ousting-out of the kingdom of Satan. The Kingdom of God is the reign and rule of God through which the perfection of his creation will be reinstated on this earth, not as something new but as something RE-newed. That which is broken will be restored, that which is sick will be healed, that which is lost will be redeemed, etc.

All this to say, the end times is not something we wait for and fret about, we are living in the end times now and we are called to be an active part of bringing God’s Kingdom to this earth. What we wait for and what we long for, as believers, is the return of Jesus when he will bring this cosmic redemption to completion. In the meantime, we live in the tension of the already-but-not-yet nature of this age. In other words, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in his Kingdom, but NOT YET has it come in its fullness (see post on present suffering).

To the question at hand, yes Jesus is talking about end times, but he is not talking about some far-distant thing that will happen just before he returns. The realities that he mentions are end-times realities, but he is actually being much more specific, talking about something much closer to his contemporaries. Namely, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. See Post on Matthew 16:28.

This entire passage of Mark 13:1-31 is based around Jesus’ statement to his disciples about the temple in Mark 13:2, “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” It is not insignificant that the context of this passage is a discussion about the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is looking toward the future destruction of the Temple (a historical event that took place in 70A.D.) and telling his disciples both what they can expect and how they should live their lives.

What the disciples can expect:

False Messiahs 13:6,22
Wars 13:6-8
Earthquakes 13:8
Famines 13:8
Persecution and trials 13:9,11,13
Dissension within families 13:12
The Abomination that Causes Desolation 13:14
Sun and moon darkened, stars fall from sky – 13:24-25
Son of man coming in power and glory – 13:26-27

What the disciples should be doing:

Watching 13:5
Don’t be alarmed 13:7
Be on guard 13:9,23
Preach the Gospel to All Nations 13:10
Don’t worry 13:11
Stand Firm – 13:13
Pray 13:18

The message about what followers of Jesus should be doing is clear… “Be ready!” But the words about what we can expect seem cryptic at best. Taken at face value it sounds like we should be looking for a time when the world is cosmically falling apart. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that the end times must be getting close because we have an earthquake or hurricane. The end times are not getting close, we are living in the end times right now and we have been for 2000 years.  We should be living our lives in a state of constant readiness and constant vigilance in spreading the good news about Jesus.

Jesus here, is addressing something much more specific within the end times. He is answering the disciples question about the temple. Believe it or not, all of the events that Jesus speaks about in Mark 13 are events that can be linked to the destruction of the temple in 70A.D, or that happened before or near that event. I will briefly look at those listed above one by one…

False Messiahs – This was already an issue in first century Palestine when Jesus arrived on the scene. False messiahs were popping up all over the place. This was true before Jesus and after Jesus, and is not something reserved for the ‘end of all things’. Thus, it would not have been strange for there to have been false prophets and false messiahs leading up to the destruction of the Temple.

Wars – The Jerusalem Temple was torn down in the Jewish War with the Romans in 70 A.D. And we have seen many wars since.

Earthquakes – On the day that Jesus died, there was an earthquake that had significant implications on the Temple and its future destruction. In the moment of Jesus’ death the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom signifying the end of the age of temple worship which was soon to come (Matthew 27:51).

Famines – The great ancient historian Flavius Josephus records the Jerusalem famine saying “Now of those perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable” (Josephus 192).

The Abomination that Causes Desolation – Whenever you see footnotes in your bible that cross reference other parts of the bible, go to that address and figure out what it means. Jesus knew scripture inside and out and he used it to teach his disciples. These are words taken from Daniel. This particular passage in Daniel is speaking about desecration of the Temple. Thus Jesus, again is referring to the Temple and what will happen to it, namely that ‘no stone will be left on another’ (Mark 13:2).

The Gospel must be preached to all nations – This happened in Acts chapter 2… “There were staying in Jerusalem God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5). It is this group of people from every nation who heard the first sermon given by Peter.  While it is likely that not every nation under heaven was really there, we must take into account the figurative nature of the statement, and the fact that all known nations may have been represented.  Likewise, in Mark this may just as likely be a figurative statement about the need to preach the gospel to every nation before the Temple was destroyed.  Though we can be certain that it is the will of God that the Gospel be shared with every nation (even the one’s we don’t know about).

Persecution and Trials – One need only read the book of Acts to see the kinds of trials that Jesus’ followers went through in the years leading up to the destruction of the temple (Acts 8:1)

Sun and Moon Darkened – This is not a literal description of the universe falling apart, this is an allusion to Isaiah 13:10 and Isaiah 34:4, both of which use the same language to describe seismic shifts in the political landscape of Isaiah’s time, namely the fall of the Babylonian empire. Jesus uses the same figurative language to describe the fall of Jerusalem (that is Jesus being ironic).

Son of Man coming in Glory – Our classic view of the end times is that the ‘elect’ people will get to see Jesus floating down on the clouds. I won’t say that that is not true, but I will say that this statement by Jesus is not about the manner of Jesus’ arrival when he returns. Rather, it is about the shift that is taking place in the world as Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God. The destruction of the Temple would be another powerful symbol that the Kingdom of God has arrived and the age of the Temple is over. Authority is shifting from the Temple to the Christ.

When Jesus ends his teaching to the disciples by saying, “THIS GENERATION will not pass away” (Mark 13:30), he is indeed referring to his contemporaries, the ones who could hear him speaking these words. They would soon experience the tragedy of seeing the Temple destroyed, some 40 years after his resurrection. However, this did not mean that Jesus would return immediately and the world would come to and end, rather, it was a powerful sign that the age of the Kingdom of God was being realized.

Cited

Flavius. Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1987), Wars 6.192

Are sacrifices required or not? (based on Psalm 40:6 and Laws in Leviticus).

March 2, 2010

Were burnt offerings old hat by the time King David was around?

Reference: Psalm 40:6 and Leviticus 1-7

Question:

In Psalm 40:6 David seems to come to a realization that God does not desire sacrifices.  Does that mean that the commands about sacrifice were only for the people of Israel at the time of the Exodus?

Answer:

Psalm 40:6 is not the only place where scripture seems to disparage the practice of burnt offerings and sacrifice.  Some of the places, especially in the prophets, it is God himself who seems to express his anger about sacrifice and offerings.  These instances however, do not constitute a change in practice or a contradiction in scripture.

In Psalm 40:6 David is expressing a profound realization, namely, that God wants our obedience more than our sacrifice.  The proper response to a God of such great mercy is to live a life of obedience.  That is powerful worship.  David is saying that going through the motions of sacrifice is not worship, but when we allow our wills to become aligned with the will of God, he is greatly praised.

David is simply coming to the realization that many of us come to when we start to understand God better.  It is the truth our relationship with God and our acceptance by him is not based on religious do’s and don’ts it is about allowing our lives to be transformed by God and aligning our will with his will.  David points this out in the very next verses when he says, “I desire to do your will,​ my God;​ your law is within my heart.”

This does not mean that the sacrifices and burnt offerings listed in the first several chapters of Leviticus are not important.  These still would have been a central part of David’s faith, but now he knows that it is not the sacrifice itself that allows him to be close to God, rather it is his own willingness to pursue the will of God.  The tradition of sacrifice is still alive and well today in our faith, but in a much different way.  Christ is the centerpiece of our faith, and he himself is our sacrifice.  When we remember him, we remember the sacrifice that covers us all.

Why does God have such strict laws about yeast?

March 2, 2010

Unleavened bread can be made much more quickly than bread with yeast because it does not need time to rise.

Reference: Various verses throughout the Old Testament

Question:

Why does God hate yeast?

Answer:

The laws in Exodus concerning yeast have everything to do with these two verses in Exodus 12…

26And when your children​s​ ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27then tell them, ‘It is the Passover​t​ sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’

God does not hate yeast.  God was insuring that the people would remember his rescue of them from Egypt.  On the night of the passover they made bread without leaven (yeast), Exodus 12:8.  It is likely that this was done because they were preparing for a haste exit from the Egypt (Exodus 12:39).  Thus, every year in preparation for the passover feast, the Israelites did not eat bread with leaven in it as a powerful reminder of what God had done for them.  As Exodus 12:26-27 says it is about reminding future generations about what God did for his people.  Ceremony is a powerful way to remember, and it is the same reason why we share bread and wine on a regular basis.  We remember what Christ did for us on the cross, his body (the blood) and his blood (the wine) broken and shed for us.

Why don’t Christians celebrate Jewish customs?

March 2, 2010

Jesus celebrates the passover feast ("Last Supper" by Salvador Dali)

Question:

There are many times throughout the Gospels that Jesus refers to the Old Testament. He also seems to have followed the Jewish ways since he was Jewish. Why didn’t any of the old customs/laws be get passed on into the Christian faith. For example the eating of certain meats, the Sabbath, and Passover to name a few?

Answer:

Jesus was Jewish.  No-brainer, right?  But you can take it even one step further to say that Jesus was the Jew. He represented everything that the nation of Israel was supposed to be, and in fact he himself was the blessing that had been promised to Abraham so many generations ago.  I make a point to emphasize Jesus’ Jewishness because he is often seen as one who came to supplant an entire faith.  Not so.  Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, nor did he come to abolish an old one.  Jesus came to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  In his sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 Jesus is essential pointing the way to the kingdom of God.  What does it look like?  What is our role in it?  How should we prepare?  But in this great teaching Jesus does not suggest a passing away of the Jewish law.  On the contrary he suggests that he has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18).  So why do we not practice the customs of our Jewish forefathers?

The above question points to 3 good examples that should be made clear.  Eating of certain meets, the Sabbath, and the Passover Feast.

The Eating of Certain Meets

The eating of certain meets became a tough issue early on as the followers of Christ began to bring his message out into the Roman empire.  Initially, the good news of Jesus was almost exclusively being shared with Jews.  But the Lord appeared to Peter in a vision in which he showed Peter all kinds of foods that were forbidden for Jews, yet to Peter’s surprise the Lord said  “kill and eat” (Acts 10).  Peter needed to be taught that none of God’s creation was unclean.  The point of the vision was to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, but the illustration is clear, Christ does not forbid us to eat certain kinds of meat.  In Mark 7:18-19 Jesus was even more blatant about the dietary laws.

This makes sense in line with the laws of Israel that were given to Moses.  Some of the commandments were simply purity laws or dietary laws, not morality laws.  In other words, they existed to protect them from disease and set them apart from the practices of other people, they were not there to establish their moral identity as God’s people, those laws remain intact.

The Sabbath

Christians absolutely should practice sabbath keeping as a part of our faith.  Jesus did not try to abolish the sabbath, though he was accused of it many times.  Perhaps his greatest words concerning the Sabbath were “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  In other words, the sabbath should not be an act of religious duty, it should be perceived as time of rest, as it was intended to be.   And not just rest in terms of a long nap of a day off work, but deep rest in the truest meaning of the word.  The Sabbath is both a time when we can take time to rest and enjoy God, it points to the future heavenly rest that we will have when we enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4).  Sabbath keeping is a spiritual discipline that allows us to take deep pleasure in God.  But keeping the sabbath is not a religious exercise designed for us to earn points with God. Furthermore, we are not to be so religious about the Sabbath that it keeps us from doing good.  Jesus was harshly criticized for performing miracles on the Sabbath.  The teachers of the law had become so bent toward religious adherence to the law that they would rather neglect doing good than neglect the Sabbath.  Jesus rightly points out that they are stupid heads (Matthew 12:1-14).

By the way, Sunday is not the Sabbath for Christians.  Sunday is the day that we worship God because God raised Jesus from the dead on Sunday.  The Sabbath day is Saturday, the seventh day on which God himself rested (Genesis 1).  But we are not bound to a Saturday sabbath.  Sabbath implies the idea of a rest on the 7th day, just as a sabbatical implies a rest on the seventh year.  More important then the specific day is the importance that we take our sabbath rest regularly in the rhythm that God has prescribed for us. He really knows what he’s doing.

The Passover Feast

The passover feast was an important Jewish festival celebrating Israel’s redemption from Egypt.  It was one of the great feasts of their faith.  Jesus celebrated it, in fact his famous Last Supper was a passover meal (Matthew 26:17-19).   We are followers of Jesus so wouldn’t it make sense for us to practice it today?

The simple reason that we don’t celebrate the Passover meal as Christians is because the celebration of Israel’s redemption from Egypt pales in comparison to the celebration of God’s redemption of all people from the power of sin and death.  Jesus is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), and we celebrate his death on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Just as the sign of lamb’s blood signified to God that he should pass over and spared the lives of the first-born Israelites during the last plague in Egypt (Exodus 12).  So also the blood of Jesus signifies to God that his Judgment will pass us over.  Our sins are washed clean and we are not judged on account of what we have done.  Though similar, this latter pass over of God is far greater and far more precious than the Exodus Passover, and it belongs to all people.  How anti-climactic it would be if we reached the time of year when we celebrate our redemption from sin, but instead we celebrated Israel’s redemption Egypt?  It would do a disservice to the greatness of God’s ultimate redemption through Jesus.

To take another angle, it could also be said that Christians celebrate a passover meal far more often than Jews do.  Every time Christians take communion we are partaking in the passover meal of the last supper, the same last supper when Jesus celebrated his final passover meal with his disciples.  We remember weekly or monthly that God passes over our sins, even though we do not deserve such mercy.