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July 8, 2016

A Year Through the Gospels: Week 20 | The Signs of Jesus

This is the twentieth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.

John 2:1–11 The Wedding at Cana

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

The Gospel of John was written with deliberate thought and intent. John wanted to capture a deeper level of Jesus’ life and ministry than what was in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He chose different stories, different dialogs, and different teachings, but John did not choose them just for the sake of being different. He wanted to show us something that was not already jumping out at us from the pages of another book. He wanted to show us something deeper, something visible only through God’s eyes: Jesus is not just the Jewish Messiah, or only the savior of the oppressed, but he is the savior of the human condition; he is the savior for the parts of us that we do not know are broken. Throughout his gospel, John illustrates why humanity needs such a savior and that Jesus is indeed that savior.

In the first twelve chapters of John, Jesus performs twelve signs that are supposed to reveal to us who he is. Some of these are miracles like turning the water into wine or raising Lazarus from the dead, whereas others demonstrate this through actions and conversations such as the cleansing of the temple or Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. John explained his purpose behind using these narratives to tell the overall story of Jesus. He wrote “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31 ESV). John chose these stories so that all of humanity might know that we are dead in our current condition but that Jesus is the source of life.

Jesus’ twelve signs:

  1. Wedding at Cana (2:1-12)
  2. Cleansing the Temple (2:13-25)
  3. Conversation with Nicodemus (3:1-21)
  4. Woman at the Well (4:1-42)
  5. Healing the Official’s son(4:43-54)
  6. Healing on the Sabbath (5:1-47)
  7. Feeding of the Five Thousand & Bread of Life (6:1-71)
  8. Teachings on his Identity (7-9:41)
  9. The Good Shepherd & Unity with the Father (10:1-39)
  10. John the Baptist Prepared the way (10:40-42)
  11. Raising of Lazarus (11:1-57)
  12. Anointed for death & Triumphal Entry (12:1-50)
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July 5, 2016

A Year Through the Gospel: Week 19 | What Are You Seeking?

This is the nineteenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.

The Gospel of John is one of the most pivotal books of the whole Bible. Its unique depiction of Jesus’ life – who he is, why he lived, what he taught, and why he died – has drawn millions of people to pour over its pages to discover who the most iconic person in history really is. It is for this reason that we instruct both new Christians and those who are still seeking to read John’s Gospel before they read anything else. John provides many foundational verses such as the poetic introduction in chapter one, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in chapter three, the woman at the well in chapter four, the woman caught in adultery in chapters seven and eight, and many testimonials about Jesus’ relationship with the Father throughout the whole book.

It is believed that Jesus’ disciple named John wrote this book. John was one of the sons of Zebedee, was one of Jesus’ three closest companions, and is referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” throughout the book. Most scholars believe John was written at the end of the first century, probably somewhere around A.D. 90. An earlier date, around A.D. 50, is also suggested. The dispute is centered around whether John wrote before the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or after. The evidence supporting a later date includes John’s distinct narrative differences from the other three gospels (as if he wanted to write a gospel that included information that the others did not). John also includes details that possibly allude to the deaths James (A.D. 44) and Peter (between A.D. 64 and 68).

John offers us a a unique encounter with Jesus, and Jesus himself invites us into it. In chapter one, John the Baptist notices Jesus and tells his disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God. When they hear this, the two disciples leave John and follow Jesus. When he realizes they are following him, Jesus turns and asks them “What are you seeking?” (verse 1:35-38). Jesus’ question to these two men is simple but powerful, and it is what he asks all of us when we open the book of John: “Why are you reading this? Why are you interested? What are you seeking? What do you hope to find?” There is a longing of completeness that those of us who open this book cannot help but feel. We are drawn to its pages in the same way John’s disciples were drawn to Jesus: because the feeling of being incomplete has been crying out inside of us for as long as we can remember, but in the presence of Jesus it is quieted and there is peace. The Gospel of John brings us into a special encounter with Jesus, an encounter that satisfies our searching and restless souls.

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June 22, 2016

A Year Through the Gospels: Week 18 | Bodily Resurrection

This is the eighteenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.

Luke 24:36–43 ESV Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection

“As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”They gave him a piece of broiled fish,and he took it and ate before them.”

Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection dispelled the mystical speculations that were common in the first century. One such common belief among the Greeks was that the physical realm was inferior to the spiritual realm. This line of thinking was called Gnosticism, which derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Although Gnosticism was not a formal religion, per se, it had a core belief of a dualistic reality made up of a physical realm and an intellectual or spiritual realm. The intellectual realm was the superior realm, and the physical realm was a creation attempt by an inferior god. Before creation, humanity existed in the spiritual realm by means of a Divine Spark of life. When the physical realm was created, the existing spiritual realm became trapped within a physical body within the physical realm. The ultimate pursuit of humanity, therefore, is to become fully aware of one’s limitations within the physical realm and transcend back into the spiritual realm by means of acquiring the proper knowledge (gnosis). To the Gnostics, anything made of matter was corrupted and an inferior state of being. Furthermore, this philosophy made the Gnostics elitists, and they claimed to have knowledge that the common folk did not have. Jesus’ resurrection conflicted with this philosophy because he rose again in bodily form. He was a spirit or a ghost. He showed them the reality of his existence by having them touch his hands and feet. “Touch and see” he said “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then, in case any doubt yet remained in them, he ask for a fish and ate it in their presence. Through the bodily resurrection of Jesus, God distanced himself from the Gnostic idea that matter is corrupted and inferior. God’s plan is to redeem his creation, not dispose of it entirely. Jesus’ bodily resurrection gives us a glimpse of what the final resurrection will look like when God redeems his creation and dwells amongst it for eternity.

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May 27, 2016

A Year Through the Gospels: Week 17 | Forgiven Much

This is the seventeenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.

We often hear about how Christianity is a relationship with God. This is definitely true, but what does that relationship look like? What are the parameters that define this relationship? What is the role of each party, and how should we view God in such a relationship? To find the answers to these questions, we need to look at a very special woman in the New Testament.

Luke 7:36–50 He Who Is Forgiven Much, Loves Much

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.””

This is one of the most emotional passages in Luke. The woman is shamelessly weeping and worshiping her savior in public, and Jesus defends her in front of everyone. It is also one of the few passages that appears in all four of the gospels. The woman remains unnamed in Luke’s account, but she is described as “a woman of the city” and “a sinner.” Based on this description, and the way the dinner host reacted to her presence, there is a good chance that this woman was a prostitute. Matthew, Mark, and John shed more light on the story. They all indicate that Jesus was in the town of Bethany. We find out in Luke that the host’s name was Simon (verse 40); Matthew and Mark tell us that Simon was a leper (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3). John talks about this story twice. In chapter 11, John tells the story of Lazarus, who had two sisters, Mary and Martha, and it was Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet (John 11:1-2). Then, in chapter 12, we actually see John’s account of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet (12:1-8). Unfortunately, identifying the woman as Mary does not clearly indicate who she was. This Mary is often called Mary of Bethany because she lived in Bethany, but we do not know if Mary of Bethany is the same as Mary Magdalene- who is sometimes believed to be the woman of this story because she is thought to have been a prostitute. Fortunately, knowing exactly who each Mary was and what each of them did is not the most important concern regarding our study of the gospels.

Jesus’ words are always profound, but the things he says to Simon in this passage are an important lesson for all of us. Jesus tells a brief parable in which two men owed separate debts to the same moneylender. The amount they owed was recorded as denarii. Denarii is the plural form of denarius, which was a day’s wage. One of the debtors owed five hundred denarii, and the other only owed fifty. The moneylender, for whatever reason, decided to rescind both debts. Jesus then asks Simon “Now, which one of them will love him more?” Simon correctly answers that the man who had the greater debt will love the moneylender more. From here, Jesus compares the way Simon and this woman have treated him during the dinner party. Simon failed to extend loving hospitality to Jesus, but the woman’s actions mimicked that hospitality: Simon did not offer Jesus any water to clean his feet, but the woman washed them with her hair and tears. Simon did not great him with a customary kiss on the hand or cheek, but the woman would not stop kissing his feet. Simon was not willing to offer Jesus any of his oil, which was used as both a sign of hospitality and as a lotion for the skin and hair, but the woman poured her ointment on his feet- one of the dirtiest parts of the body. The actions of Simon and the woman represent the love they each have for him in their hearts, and that love is rooted in gratefulness. If Simon and the woman were the two debtors from Jesus’ parable, Simon would be the one who owed fifty denarii, and the woman would owe five hundred. Simon did not feel as though he had been forgiven very much, which resulted in a low level of gratefulness. The woman, on the other hand, believed she had been forgiven much, which resulted in a high level of gratefulness. Those who know how much forgiveness had to be extended for them to be saved are grateful for that forgiveness and love the source of that forgiveness, Jesus. Those who do no know how much forgiveness they need to be saved are not grateful and do not extend love to Jesus but are actually offended.

Forgiveness is required for salvation, but we only accept that forgiveness when we feel the weight of the debt. The debtor who owed 500 denarii needed to give 100% of his wages to the moneylender for slightly less than a year and a half. The debtor who owed fifty probably only needed to work for a few weeks and then scrounge up the rest of the money elsewhere. We feel the weight of our debts when we know there is no way to get out of them without some sort of pain: time, hunger, servitude, oppressive working conditions, money, etc. A smaller debt that we can wiggle out of without experiencing pain does not impress upon us the actual weight of the debt. We get out of it somehow, and we move on without thinking twice about it. When it comes to God, all of us are in the situation of the man who owed 500 denarii. We cannot get out of it, and we cannot pay it. The only way for us to survive is for it to be forgiven. Recognizing the reality of our desperate situation results in us falling at Jesus’ feet and accepting the forgiveness he extended to us.

It is easy for us to view forgiveness and grace as a mutual agreement drawn up between two equal parties; “I agree that God deserves to be recognized as God, and, in turn, he grants me salvation.” This is not how it works. We owe a debt to God that we cannot pay back. Forgiveness and grace will be placed in their proper perspectives when we get their meanings through this passage. The reason this passage is one of the few that appears in all four gospels is because it reveals to us an unmistakably vivid picture of how we ought to understand our relationship with God and how to feel grateful towards him.

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May 4, 2016

A Year Through the Gospels: Week 16 | Luke

This is the sixteenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.

Introduction

Luke’s gospel is bout the lost, the poor, and women. The representation of these three groups is unlike the other gospels. The teachings within Luke emphasize the offer of salvation to everyone who would normally be overlooked. It is an insightful book and brings an understanding of the gospel that is difficult to find anywhere else.

Author

Luke authored both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. These two works are designed to be read together as part on and part two. Luke played an interesting role in the formation of the early church. Ethnically, he was Greek, and professionally, he was a physician. Luke was one of the first gentiles to have an important role in the church: he was very involved in the early church with the apostles by accompanying Paul on some of his missionary journeys (Acts 16:10-17); Paul even referred to Luke as the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Luke remained loyal to Paul throughout his missionary journeys. At the end of 2 Timothy, Paul states that everyone who was once with him had abandoned him except Luke (2 Timothy 4:11).

Luke was a precise author. He states in the prologue to his gospel that he gathered the apostles’ eyewitness stories of Jesus in order to write a thorough account of his ministry (1:1-4). He used this same level of inquiry when writing the book of Acts, but, of course, he was able to draw on his own personal witness of the adventures of Paul. Luke also stated his purpose fro writing and who he wrote to in his brief prologue. The two volume work of Luke and Acts was written for Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). It is uncertain if Theophilus was a real person or if it was a name given to the body of believers. The name is derived from the Greek words theos (qeovß), meaning God, and philos (fivloß), meaning friend or friendly; thus, Theophilus means friend of God, or loved by God. At the end of his prologue in verse four, Luke says he compiled his volume on the life and ministry of Jesus so that Theophilus might know that the things he had been taught were correct. Luke dedicated his life to making sure that the teachings of Jesus and the apostles were properly recorded and distributed. By doing so, he helped eliminate confusion and uncertainty among the believers in the early church and every subsequent generation since then.

Characteristics

  • Historical and Well Researched
    • Dates and Rulers: There are many times throughout his gospel that Luke uses rulers as a point of reference for when events took place. Chapter 1:5 says “In the days of Herod, King of Judea…” Luke often says something similar to this to indicate the time frame of an even because our modern form of dating did not exist yet. Dates and times were kept track of through rulers. Other examples of this within Luke are 2:1-2; 3:1-3.
    • Elizabeth and Zechariah: Chapter one records the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist. This story is not recorded anywhere else in Scripture. Elizabeth was related to Mary; her husband, Zechariah, was a priest. Their story resembles Abraham and Sarah because they were older, and Elizabeth was barren. God is very present throughout the story as he intervenes in the lives of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Mary. One cannot help but sense the presence of God’s holiness throughout the hole story.
    • Nativity Story: Other than Matthew, Luke is the only place where the birth of Jesus may be found in the Bible. Luke excludes the account of the Magi, but it includes the interaction with a righteous man named Simeon and a prophetess named Anna.
    • Genealogy: Like the nativity story, Luke has the only other record of Jesus’ genealogy outside of Matthew. However, unlike Matthew’s genealogy, Luke begins with Jesus and works back all the way to Adam instead of ending with David. The reason for this difference is the purpose of writing. Matthew wanted to show that Jesus is the heir of David, but Luke wanted to show that Jesus represents all of mankind and not just the Jews.
  • Women play a much greater role in Luke than any of the other gospels. Both Elizabeth and Mary are righteous and pious and play greater roles than Zechariah and Joseph. Mary is called “Favored One” by the angel Gabriel. The prophetess Anna received the message about Jesus as the Messiah before the Scribes, Priests, and Pharisees. Chapter 7:36-50 records the story of a sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with an expensive alabaster ointment. Jesus upholds her as an example because she loved him so much. Immediately following this passage, chapter eight begins with Luke mentioning all the women who supported Jesus’ ministry out of their own means. Later on in chapter 10:38-42 Jesus says that Mary’s choice of sitting at his feet is good and that she will be rewarded for it.

Themes

One of the biggest themes throughout the gospel of Luke is that Jesus came to save the lost not just within Judaism but the whole world. The famous parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and the prodigal son in chapter 15 reflect this as does the genealogy. One of the best images of this is the parable of the banquet in 14:15-24. The man who threw the banquet initially only invited his friends, but he quickly invited anyone who would listen when his friends did not show up.

Read Luke with these things in mind and pay close attention to how it broadens your understanding of the gospel.

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April 16, 2016

A Year Through the Gospels: Week 15 – Betraying Jesus

This is the fifteenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.

Mark 14:26–31, 50 Jesus Foretells of Peter’s Denial

“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same… And they all left him and fled.”

We often look down on the disciples while they were with Jesus. They did not understand his teachings; they quickly forgot the power of his miracles; they lacked faith; they wanted Jesus to do things he did not come to do. Ultimately, it is very easy to read through the gospels and view the disciples as incompetent or halfwitted. One of the worst marks on their record is the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Prior to the arrest at the Mount of Olives, Peter and the rest of the disciples declared their loyalty to Jesus and that they would stay with him no matter what, even unto death. Sadly, though, verse fifty reveals that not one of the disciples stayed true to his word but instead deserted him. As dark and cowardly as this scene is, it was actually necessary for two reasons.

The first reason is because of Zechariah’s prophecy. Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7 when telling his disciples that they will flee from him: ““Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”  Zechariah was a prophet and priest while Israel was rebuilding its nation after the Babylonian exile. God revealed many things about the coming Messiah for him to prophesy about and encourage his people. In the book of Zechariah, the last few chapters describe how the future Kingdom of God will be ushered in. After verse seven it goes on to say

“In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”” (Zechariah 13:8–9)

God declares that he will make a group of people his as a result of everything he is doing. By quoting this passage, Jesus indicates that the whole process is in motion and that the first part of the Messiah’s role is being carried out. If this part of the prophecy by Zechariah is not fulfilled, then the rest of it would not come to fruition either. The Shepherd must be struck and the sheep scattered so that the sheep may be called back to God for his purposes.

The second reason is for the sake of the sake of the gospel and the Church. The twelve disciples who were with Jesus on the night of his arrest were his most faithful disciples. They followed him for three years, listening to his teaching and watching his miracles. After his death, they were some of the few who were eyewitnesses of his resurrection. During his ministry, Jesus named them apostles (Luke 6:13), and he appointed them to preach the gospel before his ascension (Matthew 28:18-20). In Acts 1:8, Jesus says “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” These twelve apostles were his most qualified witnesses, and it was necessary for them to spread the good news of Jesus. Had they fulfilled their vows to stay with Jesus unto death, who would have proclaimed the name of Jesus after his ascension? But the evangelism of the Mediterranean world not have been the only thing to struggle. There would be no one available to guide the body of new believers. The Church might never have gotten off the ground. The apostles were the appointed leaders of Christ’s Bride, the Church. Without them, the whole operation would flounder and struggle to ever become what Zechariah prophesied it would be. The book of Acts would not have happened, and no one would have been around to correct incorrect teachings to ensure the Church’s beliefs remained rooted in what Christ taught. The death of the apostles on the night of Jesus’ betrayal might have resulted in the death of the Christian faith.

The disciples certainly missed a lot while they were with Jesus, but the fact that they fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy instead of their vows to Jesus on the night of his arrest was one of the most pivotal moments in God’s plan for restoration. The Church is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy about God and his people, and the Church is the result of the disciples’ decision to flee instead of to die.

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