Do Not Be Overcome by Evil

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

 

Human cultures have different ways of dealing with honor, shame, weakness, strength, and many other aberrations. In WWII, Americans captured by the Japanese were treated (or mistreated) horribly because of the Japanese belief that no soldier should ever give up. They considered those who surrendered to be worse than animals.

Nazis believed that honor only came from force. Torture was used to gain information because brute force was the only way to accomplish one’s goals.

Christians have a whole new set of definitions for every world culture. Honor is gained by loving. Strength is gained by being weak. The only shame is not repenting when we realize we are not following God.

Commenting on the Jeremiah reading, Origen wrote (c. 200): If the athlete avoids what is troublesome about the contest, the sweetness of the crown will never be hisACCS If we are loyal to God, if we are doing what He asks of us, if His Kingdom is our only concern, then we will be considered by the world to be weak and shameful.

With Jeremiah, we must pray that God will say to us,

If you repent, I shall restore you

To plead before me.

If you distinguish between the precious and the base,

You shall be as my own mouthNJB

 

Sadly, in the past seventy years, Americans have become more willing to mistreat prisoners and to depend on brute force to accomplish our goals. As a culture, we have little concern for other nations as long as the US gets its way.

That plays out in our individual lives as well. We seek jobs that come with the status we believe we are entitled to have. We are unwilling to associate with people who cannot help us get what we want. We will always have the poor with us. Besides, they are poor through their own choices. We are not giving up what we have to help them.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Bedrock

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

 

This passage in Matthew is one of the most contested passages in the New Testament. One issue surrounds Peter and the other deals with bind and loose. The Roman Catholic contention is that Jesus gave Peter the rank of Leader of the Church. Most others argue that Jesus was praising Peter for his statement of faith.

Let’s look at the literal translation of the Greek, starting at verse 17. And having answered Jesus said to him, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood did not reveal to you but the father of me the one in the Heavens. And I also say to you that you are Petros and upon this Petra I will build of me the church and gates of Hades will not overcome it. United Bible Society Interlinear Translation

The two key words are Petros and Petra in Greek, and I left them in the Greek transliteration for emphasis. Petros refers to a large rock, larger than a stone; larger even than the stones used to build the walls of the Temple. The Greeks used it as a name. In English, we say, The Rock and Rocky.

Petra is the feminine form of Petros and is used to mean rock, any kind, any size. It was even used to mean bedrock.

That may have been what Jesus had in mind when he said, on this rock I will build my churchESV

That brings us back to Peter, Rocky, for the whole quote is, Shim‘on Kefa answered, “You are the Mashiach, the Son of the living God.” “Shim‘on Bar-Yochanan,” Yeshua said to him, “how blessed you are! For no human being revealed this to you, no, it was my Father in heaven. I also tell you this: you are Kefa,” [which means ‘Rock,’] “and on this rock I will build my Community, and the gates of Sh’ol will not overcome it. CJB

It is good to look at this translation to get a sense of the actual words Jesus would have used. We know that he spoke Aramaic and Hebrew most of the time. His words were translated into Greek years later because that was the common language of the early church. That means that Jesus did not use the word Petros, but rather Kefa.

Note the word community instead of church. It is a more accurate translation of the Greek ekklesia which means congregation.

Note that Jesus named Simon the Rock early in the ministry, so this passage simply builds on that already existing name.

Also note that Jesus withdrew from home territory to Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city famous for rock quarries used to build many Roman temples. So, picture this exchange taking place in the Greek-Roman world where the church would soon take root. Jesus is sending us a message that the Good News is intended for every human on earth.

As to, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, NIV remember that Jesus came from Heaven to earth with Good News. To Peter and the other apostles as well, Jesus gave the keys to understanding and witnessing to the Good News. Down the ages, millions of people have shared the keys.

Each of us has a share in spreading the Good News. It is up to us to accept on the faith of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah and act on that faith in whatever way God leads us.

Read my comments on the passage of Romans here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Feeding the Dogs

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

 

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” ESV What was Jesus thinking? He is supposed to be the essence of compassion. Was he just having a bad day?

Notice first that Jesus has led his band out of Galilee and into Phoenicia. Jesus could not have been surprised to be approached by a Canaanite woman; he was in their territory.

At first, he ignored her, possibly to see how serious she would be, but more likely to build up the teaching moment. The disciples became agitated with her, but Jesus did not. He simply pointed out that his mission was to Jews. Notice too that he made that statement to the disciples, not to the woman.

In any case, the woman finally came close to Jesus and asked him face to face for help. It was then that he uttered the contentious words above.

Jesus was not trying to cut her off or denigrate her. Yes, Jews considered all gentiles to be no better than dogs, thus the reference. But Jesus was still making the point that if he were just another Jewish man, he would refuse to help her because she was gentile, not to mention female. He needs to see how she would react.

Jesus got the answer he wanted. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. ESV She proved her faith, willingly accepting the insult because she recognized Jesus as her master, and as the one who could save her daughter.

The message from Isaiah assures us that Jesus the Messiah knew and accepted the message that gentiles would come to God’s house in swarms and that God intended that all along. My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. NIV

See my comments on these NT readings from August 17, 2014, here.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

 

 

I Will Listen to What God Says

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

 

Elijah was a great prophet because he listened to God. He did not listen to the wind or the earthquake, as we are prone to do; he waited for the whisper. Only then did he leave the cave to commune with God.

Elijah could tell the difference between noise and the Word of God. We prefer to think God is in the noise. We like mountain top experiences when a thousand people sing praises to God, and we imagine that is where we commune with Him. We are not so good at hearing the still, small voice of God when we are alone.

Does God speak to us in a vast auditorium through the thousand voices? Yes. Does He speak out of the storms of life? Yes. But a conversation is best held in the quiet.

Jesus gave Peter a lesson in that shortly after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Jesus sent the disciples away in their boat while he found a quiet spot for conversation with Father.

When the wind came up and kept the boat away from shore, the disciples became frightened. Possibly, God said to Jesus, ‘We can talk later. Go on and calm them.’

Jesus walked calmly into the storm because God smoothed the waves for him. When Peter asked Jesus to call him, Jesus simply said, “Come.” As far as we know, he is one of only two humans to walk on water. The rest of us must wait for it to become ice.

Peter listened. He heard the command and obeyed, even in the midst of the storm. But, like most of us, he could not stay focused on the Word. He looked at the storm and sank.

Notice: Jesus took his hand and pulled him out of the water. Only then did he say, ‘You have some faith, but not enough.’ I don’t think Jesus was critical so much as instructive. ‘Peter, you could have done better. Next time, don’t take your eye away from me.’

Jesus knew Peter would slip into the water, just as he later knew Peter would deny knowing him. Jesus also knows my weaknesses, and yours.

I cannot make myself into the person God wants me to be. Only God can do that. God asked his Son to take care of the details of making it happen. Only by listening to God—to Jesus—do I have a chance of doing the Will of God, of becoming the person He made me to be. Even then, I will be that person in the next life. For now, I am a shadow of who I will be.

See my comments on these NT readings from August 10, 2014, here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Moses the Rock Star

Exodus 34:29-35

2 Peter 1:13-21

Luke 9:28-36

Psalm 99 or 99:5-9

 

Just about every American over the age of 12 has had a chance to see The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston as Moses. Not so many have seen Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent version starring Theodore Roberts. Both films were huge budget films for their times and both sold millions of tickets.

But the real Moses was a real star. Raised in the Pharaoh’s household to become a provincial ruler. At age forty, he killed an Egyptian guard and fled to Midian where he tended sheep for forty years. At the tender age of eighty, God called him to lead the Hebrews to the Promised Land. That experience cost him another forty years.

While the Bible spends very little time on the first two/thirds of his life, it is none the less important to understanding how he became a star. His first forty years were spent learning his way around Pharaohs. God wants well-trained ambassadors. His second forty years were spent in meditation and perhaps atonement.

Finally, at the age of eighty, Moses was ready to get to work. No social security for him. First, he had to face the most powerful man in the western world, and one who held an arrest warrant against Moses. He had to talk that Pharaoh into turning thousands of slaves loose at a time when there were enormous building projects in need of labor.

Then Moses had to guide a resistant people through a nasty bit of desert and listen to their whining, complaining, and their, ‘are we there yet’s.

With all that, Rock Star status came when he spent weeks on the mountain listening to the Word of God so that he could return to his people and deliver the message to them. You might recall that the Hebrews got a bit rowdy while he was gone and Moses had to return to the mountain for a second round.

With all that face time with God, Moses’ face began to radiate like he was on fire. Moses took to wearing a scarf when he met with the people.

Moses was a prophet. God talked to Moses. Moses talked to the people. Many others have had the job, including Jesus. Jesus who met with Moses and Elijah in full view of Peter, James, and John. Peter who said, “we were eyewitnesses to of his majesty,” speaking of Jesus. NIV Peter the prophet.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence