Tag Archives: faith

Baptism of Jesus


Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11


Baptism is not a Christian invention. Long before John the Baptizer came along, people used water to purify themselves so as not to offend their gods. Jews took up the practice of immersion to prepare themselves to approach God.

However, the worshiper did all those early practices alone. In Jesus time the mikvah was the place of cleansing for Jews. Jerusalem alone had dozens of them. A person would strip, walk into the flowing water (it had to move in and out), duck completely under the water, then walk up a second set of steps to leave the mikvah.

John practiced a form of this baptism, using the river instead of a mikvah. A person who was baptized by John first repented of his sins and pledged to renew his faith in God. One major difference seems to be that John’s baptism was a one-time cleansing, unlike the mikvah which some did as often as twice a day at Qumran.

Note: For Jews, baptism was something only Gentiles had to do to become Jewish. Mikvah cleansing was not considered to be baptism. John had to transform both concepts of his ministry.

Then Jesus changed the whole water-cleansing image. Jesus was familiar with John’s ministry and understood it as announcing the coming of the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled God’s promise by accepting the mantle of Messiah in the baptism. Picture the scene. John standing in the river preaching to a crowd on the banks. Jesus walking into the water, asking for baptism. John saying, no, this is for sinners. Jesus responding that he will accept all our sins. God the Father, in His joy, sent a visual image of the Holy Spirit and announced to Jesus that He was pleased.

Then, Jesus took up the water baptism of John, adding the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not clear that Jesus personally baptized people. It may have been done by his disciples only. See John 3:22-4:3. Even so, what an experience it must have been.

As a result, Christians have continued the practice much as John and Jesus did it. Some immerse, some sprinkle, some even go to the nearest river. For us, baptism takes two forms. The water represents the ancient idea of cleansing. We confess to we are sinners in the eyes of God and we represent becoming clean with the water. More importantly, we have the presence of the Spirit by the Grace of God.

Most of us do not see the Holy Spirit like a dove, but that does not mean the Spirit is not present. God cares about us and, while He cannot be here in person, His Spirit can be, and is with us.

It would be nice to have the Spirit be a human standing beside each of us whom we could ask for advice. The Spirit could say, “Don’t eat that, and other helpful advice.”

The Spirit is present, but we must work to hear and understand that still, small voice. Constant prayer, study, and conversations with fellow Christians keep us tuned into the Spirit. Remember that Jesus called us to baptize and teach new believers.

He cannot allow the teaching to slide into the background. How else can we know the presence of the Spirit?


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Lord Delights in Those Who Fear Him

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

John 1:1-18

Psalm 147



Is that really what the psalmist wanted to say? He opened the psalm with, HalleluyahCJB which is the same as, Praise the LordESV The whole psalm praises the good things he does for us. And then verse 11, the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. NIV

The key to understanding this verse is in knowing the meaning of the Hebrew word translated as fear. The word has two main meanings, really combined meanings—fear and reverence. He takes pleasure in those who honor himGNT That is closer. This nails it. His joy is in those who reverence himTLB

And yet, that leaves out the fear factor. My personal opinion (I do not read Hebrew) is that the verse should read something like this: the Lord delights in those who fear and reverence him. The old Wycliffe Bible reads, the Lord is well pleased with those who fear him/with those who revere him. (The Wycliffe Bible first appeared in 1382, nearly a century before the birth of Martin Luther. This quote came from Biblegateway.com.)

To get an idea of how we should think of God, consider King David. Whenever he gave an order, it was carried out. Even when he ordered Uriah to certain death, the faithful servant obeyed. The king is always feared and often revered.

Or look at Henry VIII of England. When Catherine of Aragon failed to give him a son—having provided Mary who became queen upon his death—Henry divorced her and in the process, broke away from the Roman church. They were married for 24 years.

Over the next ten years, Henry married five more women, beheaded two, divorced one, had one die after giving him his son (who died a few years later), and left the last one a widow. He also executed two of his First Ministers for failing to do what he wanted.

People revered Henry early on but only feared in his last decade.

God is more powerful than any earthly king. He deserves to be feared. He allows us to live even though we do not deserve it. He lavishes his grace upon us, often when we are at our worst. God deserves our devotion, reverence, adoration, allegiance, and veneration. But also, our respect. He made the universe. He made us from the dust of the universe. Respect is one side of fear.

Imagine being a parakeet flying freely in the house of your master. You receive food, water, and affection. Life is good as long as you don’t think about the fact that you are 4 inches tall and the master is 72 inches tall; that he can hold your entire body in his hand; that he can kill you in an instant; that he can allow the cat to eat you. But, you trust your master.

We show less reverence for God than we should, and probably less love and respect as well.


Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

1 Corinthians 12-16


“Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org”

Monday, June 23, Chapter 12

In the first three verses Paul is saying that the rules of the pagan gods do not apply with the One True God.  No one speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit will ever speak against God, Jesus, the Messiah, or the Spirit.  What was happening in Corinth was a rise in emotionalism.  We know people today who flit from one religious group to another seeking the religious high.  Paul was saying that emotion can overtake a person to the point of distorting the Good News.  We must balance the emotion, the necessary emotion, with what we have learned, what we know.

Within the Christian Community there are many skills and powers.  Do not demean your own skills, all are for God’s work.  Paul equates this whole chapter to the Trinity.  Jesus gives each of us our own task to do for the Kingdom.  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability, the power, the skill to do the task.  God gives us the energy to accomplish the task.  This is not necessarily the same as the natural abilities we have at birth.  Because I can run faster than anyone else is a part of my body, but it may not be the gift Jesus wants me to use for the Kingdom.

The remainder of the chapter is a thorough description of the body of Christ.

Tuesday, June 24, Chapter 13

Chapter 13 actually begins with 12:31.  Paul is saying you Corinthians are trying to reach the higher plane, but you are going about it in the wrong way.  Here is the way.

Kenneth Bailey gives this important outline:

Love and the spiritual gifts (13:1-3)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love


Love defined (13:4-7)

Opens with an indirect reference to knowledge

Closes with faith, hope and love


Love and the spiritual gifts (13:8-13)

Opens with tongues, prophecy and knowledge

Ends with faith, hope and love.


In verse 1 Paul used his personal experience to connect with the Corinthians.  He spent 18 months working in the central market making tents with Aquila and Priscilla.  Corinthian brass was the best in the Roman world and all of the craftsmen worked at the central market.  The downside of that is there are several hundred workers hammering brass from sunrise to sunset.  The noise could be heard all over the city.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 13, 1934 in London:  In the first place it is very simple, what is being said here—that a human life is only meaningful and worthwhile to the extent that it has love in it, and that a life is nothing, is meaningless and worthless, when it is without love.  A life is worth as much as the love in it.  Everything else is nothing at all, a matter of indifference, unimportant.  All the good and bad, big and little things are unimportant.  Only one thing is asked of us—whether or not we have love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 21, 1934 in London:  Last Sunday we learned that despite all our ideals, our seriousness, our knowledge, and our faith, even our good deeds and sacrifice, our lives are worth nothing if we do not have that one thing that Paul calls love…. Every person has love within him or her and knows its power and passion…. However, this love, with its power and passion and meaning, which everyone knows, is self-love—our love for our own selves…. But this self—love is love that has gone wrong, that has fallen away from its origin.  It is self-satisfied and is therefore condemned never to bear fruit—a love that is really hatred of God and my brother and sister, because they could only disturb me within the tight little circle I have drawn around myself….

So it pretends, veils itself, and dresses itself up in a thousand different forms, trying to look like real love—and it succeeds so well that human eyes can hardly tell the difference between the real thing and the fake.  Self-love disguises itself as love of our neighbor or our country, as public charity, as love of humankind, trying not to be recognized for what it really is.  Yet Paul cuts through all of self-love’s attempts to cloud the issue and to deceive and compels it to face its proper responsibility by drawing for it, for us, his picture of what God considers real love.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, October 28, 1934 in London:  In troubled times, if we stop to ask ourselves what will really come of all our agitation, when our thoughts go back and forth from one idea to another: what will come of all our worries and fears, all our wishes and hopes, in the end—and if we are willing to have answer from the Bible—what we will hear is:  There will be just one thing in the end, and that is the love that was in our thoughts, worries, wishes, and hopes.  Everything else ends and passes away—everything we did not think, and long for, out of love.  All thoughts, all knowledge, all talk that has not love comes to an end—only love never ends….

Why must everything else come to an end, and why does only love never end?  Because only in love does a person let go of himself or herself and give up his or her will, for the other person’s benefit.  Because love alone comes not from my own self but from another self, from God’s self.  Because it is through love alone that God acts through us—whereas in everything else it is we ourselves who are at work; it is our thoughts, our speaking, our knowledge—but it is God’s love.  And what is ours comes to an end, all of it—but what is of God remains.  Because love is God’s very self and God’s will; that is why it never ends, it never doubts, it stays its course.  It pursues its way with sure steps, like a sleepwalker, straight through the midst of all the dark places and perplexities of this world.  It goes down into the depths of human misery and up to the heights of human splendor.  It goes out to enemies as well as to friends, and it never abandons anyone, even when it is abandoned by everyone.

Paul Tillich adds these thoughts on the same verses:  But there is another consideration in our text which seems to contradict the words about love.  Paul singles out knowledge, and points to the difference between our fragmentary, indirect and darkened knowledge, and the full, direct and total knowledge to come…. He speaks of something which, besides love, is perfect and eternal—namely, the seeing of the truth, face to face; the knowledge which is as full as God’s knowledge of us….

But there is only one way to know a personality—to become united with that personality through love.  Full knowledge presupposes full love.  God knows me, because He love me; and I shall know Him face to face through a similar uniting, which is love and knowledge at the same time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, November 4, 1934 in London:  Faith and hope abide.  Let no one think it possible to have love without faith and without hope!  Love without faith would be a stream without a source.  That would mean that one could have love without Christ.  Through faith alone we are justified before God, through hope we are prepared for our end, and through love we are made perfect.

Through faith alone we are justified—our Protestant church is built on this sentence.  To the human question, how can I stand before God?  Luther found the one answer in the Bible:  if you believe in God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.  To the question of how human beings can be justified before God, the answer is through grace alone, through faith along.  We would be entirely right if, here at the end, we turned the first sentence of the chapter around and said, and if I have all love, so as to accomplish all good works, but have not faith, I am nothing.  Faith alone justifies—but love makes perfect.

Wednesday, June 25, Chapter 14

Verse 1 from the Amplified Bible:  Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest]; and earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts), especially that you may prophesy (interpret the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching).

Or more simply from CJB:  Pursue love!

However, keep on eagerly seeking the things of the Spirit; and especially seek to be able to prophesy.

We do not know the history of speaking in tongues, nor do we know what it means to speak in tongues.  This letter to Corinth is the only mention outside of Acts.  Paul uses the same two Greek words, laleo (to speak) and glossa (tongues) that Luke uses in Acts.  About the only point of agreement is that the term, to speak in tongues, means either speaking an existing language without having learned the language, or speaking in a language used in heaven not understood by humans.

The problem in Corinth was not laleoglossa, rather the abuse of it.  Services were being interrupted by people shouting or speaking what no one else could understand.  Many were saying that it was proof of the person’s higher spirituality.

Paul basically said do not do it unless there is a translation that will improve the congregation.  The key to understanding Paul’s position is found in verses 14-15.

In this discussion we should read Deuteronomy 28:49-50:  The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young.

Also Isaiah 28:11-12:  Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues
God will speak to this people,

 to whom he said,
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen

Verse 22 points out that believers do not need tongues.  Starting in verse 26 Paul gives an outline to be followed in a proper worship service.  He does not say that we have to follow that outline.  It is intended for Corinth.  It is a generalization only for the rest of us.

Verse 34 gets us back to the touchy subject of women in worship.  Paul has already said that women may teach, preach, and prophecy, so he is not now trying to silence them.  He is addressing the same problem caused by those speaking in tongues, they were causing disruptions in the service.  Women, with their new sense of freedom, were disrupting the services with questions and idle chit-chat.

Consider that the congregation at Corinth had rich and poor, slave and free speaking twenty or more languages.  Greek was the only common language, but most knew only enough to buy bread at the market, especially the women who were at home most of the day.  For some of those women, church was the only time they left the house.  It was social time for them, so they spend the time talking with women they know.

The service is going on in a language most of the people struggle with at best.  It is natural to ask, “What did he say?”  In no time at all there is a buzz drowning out the speakers.  Corinth is not alone in this problem.  I have been able to attend church a number of times on trips to Haiti.  Even with a small group there is a constant murmur of talk.

Kenneth Bailey wrote:  I have preached in village churches in Egypt where the women were seated on one side of the church and the men on the other.  There was a wooden partition about six feet high separating the two sections.  I preached in simple colloquial Arabic, but the women were often illiterate and the preacher was expected to preach for at least an hour—and we had problems.  The women quickly passed the limit of their attention span.  [Another result of illiteracy and staying at home.]  The children were seated with them and chatting inevitably broke out among the women.  The chatting would at times become so loud that no one could hear the preacher…. One of the senior elders would stand up and in a desperate voice shout, “Let the women be silent in the church!” and we would proceed.  John Chrysostom wrote of the same problem in his cathedral at Antioch around 400 AD.

In verses 26-36, Paul cautions prophets (male and female), speakers in tongues (male and female), and married women with their husbands, all to be silent in church.  Do not interrupt the service.

Kenneth Bailey again:  But there is a further reality at play.  Middle Eastern society is predominantly an oral cultural.  I experienced this for seventeen years in Egypt, seventeen years in Syria and Lebanon, and for ten years in Israel and Palestine.  People process information by talking more than by sitting quietly and reflecting.  This can be observed at many levels of society.  A university professor will have the attention of the class and turn to write something on the blackboard.  The moment he or she pauses to write, the entire class breaks out talking.  They are not inattentive or rude, they are simply turning to a fellow student and chatting about the subject.  This social style is particularly prominent at meetings of women.  Taking advantage of any pause, women will often begin talking out loud—sometimes to themselves.  They are simply verbalizing the information they have heard in order to better absorb and retain it….

Paul picks up on these legitimate questions and in effect says,

I know your Greek is limited.  But your husbands have learned a bit more Greek than you have managed to absorb.  They have to in order to function on the job.  You have not had this chance and it is not your fault.  But things have gotten out of hand on a numberof levels.  Please be helpful and put your questions to your husbands after you return home.  I have just told the speakers when to be quiet.  This is a situation in which you also need to listen quietly even if you can’t follow what is said.

The word shame has a different meaning in the Middle East than here.  It is extremely important, but it covers all possible actions and words.  If I say to a friend that my wife does not look good in red, I bring shame on myself in the East.  Paul says to women, do not bring shame on your husbands by chattering in church; and by the way, husbands do not bring shame on your wives by chattering back.

Thursday, June 26, Chapter 15

Recall that much of the first four chapters were devoted to the cross.  Now Paul revisits the theme to deal primarily with the resurrection.

Verses 1 and 11 are connected.

1Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

11Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

He stresses that we must receive the Gospel preached by Jesus and believe it.

Verses 2 and 10 also stand together:

2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Paul warns the Corinthians that they must stick firmly to what they have learned from Paul, Apollos, and Peter.  Do not bend the Word to suit yourselves.

The remaining verses, 3-9, hold together with Paul appearing in 3 and in 9.  Verses 4-8 are almost certainly quoted by Paul from an early church creed.  He is reminding the Corinthians, this is what we all believe; do not lose sight of it.

Verse 3 uses the word for, as in:  Christ died for our sins.  Today, we generally speak of Jesus being our substitute on the cross; that Jesus had to take on that role to settle accounts with God for our sins.  While that is part of the picture, it fails to consider that Jesus is God, so God paid the price to settle accounts with God.  That does not make much sense.

Jesus makes it plain.  The shepherd risks all to save the lost sheep.  The woman searches until she finds the lost coin.  The father runs to greet his lost son.  One after another, we see pictures of God in action in our lives in every day in every way.  God saves.

How should I live my life if I love God and love mankind?  I do what Jesus did.  He was God in human form.

Yes, he died for our sins, but he also died because of our sins, because we could do nothing about them, because they could only be erased by Grace.

Verses 12-20 make up one argument.  The two verses, 12 and 20, state that Christ rose from the grave.  The verses in between are a “What If?”

Verses 21-28 give us the world view of history, from Adam to now.  Death came to us from man, Adam, now life comes from Man, Christ.  Notice in 26 that that death is the last enemy.  Jesus’ resurrection defeated that enemy.  We will rise from our graves with Jesus.

In verses 29-34 Paul discusses the importance of the resurrection.  He begins with an important question:  Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?  The last phrase has created a long list of possible explanations.  On behalf of whom?  Likely Paul is saying that a number of people have become Christians after the deaths of their loved ones who themselves were Christians.  They began to consider the idea of resurrection and decided it was likely and they wanted a part of the great victory.

As to the beasts in Ephesus, Kenneth Bailey writes:  Paul knows full well the risks he is taking in Ephesus.  Any foreigner who would dare enter a city like Ephesus and preach a message undermining the financial security of the “establishment” would be in grave danger.  This was particularly true when the patron goddess of the city was involved.  Because of Paul’s preaching, the goddess of the city was under attack and income from “tourism” was threatened.  Who would complain if the corpse of the foreigner who was causing this disruption was dumped into the harbor some moonless night?

In verses 35-50 Paul returns to Adam and Christ.  He begins with the question we Christians often ask ourselves out of curiosity:  What kind of body will we have in Heaven?  For Paul, the question is ridiculous.  We will have the bodies given to us by God, our old bodies will no longer exist.

Our bodies will be perfect and will never wear out.  They will be different, they will not even be like the bodies of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but will be unique heavenly bodies more like the body of Jesus before his ascension.

For the last verses, let us read from the sermon delivered by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on November 26, 1939.  Imagine a small group of seminary students huddled in an old farm house without electricity or running water, trying to hide from the Nazis as the war approached the end of its second month.  They are celebrating the Last Supper and Bonhoeffer has chosen verse 55 for the text:  Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

You are invited to a victory celebration—to the celebration of the greatest victory won in the world, the victory of Jesus Christ over death.  Bread and wine, body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are the signs of victory, for Jesus lives and is present in these signs today, the same Jesus who, almost two thousand years ago, was nailed to the cross and laid in the grave.  Jesus arose from the dead, burst asunder the rock before the tomb, and remained the victor.  Today, you are to receive the signs of his victory.  And later, whenever you receive the blessed bread and blessed chalice, you should know:  just as certainly as I eat this bread and drink this wine, just as certainly has Jesus Christ remained the victor over death, and just as certainly is he the living Lord who meets me.

Friday, June 27, Chapter 16

Paul, a missionary sent by the Church in Jerusalem, took upon himself the extra mission of supporting the struggling congregation in the Holy City.  We may wonder about that, but consider that they served as the headquarters for all the church activities throughout the Roman world.  All missionaries, and they may have numbered in the hundreds by the time of this letter, were sent by and supported by the one church.

Paul’s plans depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit.  As of this writing, he expects to remain in Ephesus before working his way north along the coast and around through Macedonia again before reaching Corinth.

Paul had already sent Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22) into Macedonia with instructions to go on to Corinth from there.  Paul told the church that they should pay for Timothy’s travel back to Paul.

Again from Kenneth Bailey:  In his book Jesus in Beijing, David Aikman describes the house church movement in China.  He tells of the outreach of the Tanghi Fellowship in the Henan province.  In 1994 the Fellowship selected, trained and commissioned seventy young evangelists.  They were given about $200 each and sent to twenty-two of China’s thirty provinces.  They were also given one-way tickets to their destinations and told to return after six months using the funds they would receive from the new house fellowships they were to establish.  Exactly six months later, on October 10, 1994, all of the managed to meet the deadline and return to headquarters.  No one had died and there were only two short-term arrests.  New communities of Christians were started in many places.  Simultaneously, at five different locations, the young evangelists reported on their six months of ministry.  Mr. Zing, one of the leaders of the fellowship, reported to Mr. Aikman,

When we heard their testimonies, everybody was crying.  They wore out their shoes, they were rejected by people.  They lived in ditches and in forests.  Some of them lived with pigs.  In the meetings, God showed his love to us.  We were joyful because they all came back alive.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence




Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11
Psalm 32

Sin is now the human condition.  It is fruitless to speculate about what life in the Garden would have been like had Adam and Eve not sinned.  We live in sin.

Because of the destructiveness of sin, it is imperative that we learn to control it.  History shows us the folly of our attempts.

A close look at Adam and Eve can help us.  When the sin occurred, they were away from God, not looking at Him, not paying attention to Him.  Rather, they saw what looked scrumptious and reached for it, they fell to temptation.

Solutions?  We can study the problem and learn ways to avoid many sins.  Often, that involves the approach of alcoholics, avoid that which tempts.   Pharisee men used to walk on the other side of the street if a woman was coming toward them.  Stay away from the Christmas fudge eating contest.

In the end, all we can ever hope is to reduce sin in our lives, never to eliminate it.  We must take the approach of King David and ask God to cover our sins.  My sins are too numerous for me to keep track, mostly because I sin without knowing it.  I meet a female friend and say, “You look nice today.”  She thinks I am flirting.  I meet a female friend and say nothing.  She thinks I am stuck up.  Sin on my part?  Perhaps, but not intended.

How does God cover over our sins?  We Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus.”  But God has a whole tool shed filled with ways to cover our sins, mercy being high on the list.  It is not for us to know all of the whats and ways, He just does it.

Jesus is the main tool in the shed.  He met the Evil One head on, but kept himself focused on his Father.  The account of his temptations is helpful for us in our own puny efforts to defend against the temptations of the Evil One, but we can also study how Jesus reacted throughout his ministry.

When he healed, he told them not to advertise.  When the crowds became too large, he went in hiding.  When temptation came on strongly, he went into prayer.  Jesus did everything he could do to avoid becoming impressed with himself.

When Jesus went back home, the people who had known him as a child could not believe all the talk about miracles and his being an extraordinary teacher.  He was too ordinary.  He looked just like his brothers.  Remember, he was such a sickly kid.  His brother James is the one to watch, he’s a go-getter.  Jesus is just a flash in the pan.

Jesus needed to hear all that.  It reminded him he was one of us.  He was capable of sin.  Do not give him too much Godly power in your thinking.  He was a human.  He was Adam.  Unlike Adam, Jesus made smart decisions.  He never did anything without consulting God.

That is the solution, but we are not up doing it.  So?  Ask God to cover your sin.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 6-10

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 13, Chapter 6

A good Jew in Jesus’ day preformed three acts of righteousness : charity, prayer, and fasting.  Pharisees and many others did all three like theatre, only with an audience present.  The message from Jesus is to do these things from the heart.  Giving money in our time is easy, but it separates us from those in need and most of the time does not help them.  Only ten percent of charity dollars in the US actually help those in need.

When we pray, we should be listening to God.  Jesus gave us a sample prayer encouraging us to pray only for the basics of life, after that, we listen.

Fasting is not very popular in the US, we prefer feasting.  There are many ways to fast, but it should always be built around prayer.  The whole purpose is to give up something so we can concentrate on God for at least a day.  For modern Americans a gadget/electronic fast would be a good choice.  Try going a Sunday without TV (after the Super Bowl) and read or go for a long walk to talk with God.

We also like to feast on money and the things money can buy.  We are always on the lookout for whatever we especially like, cars, clothes, toys, what-nots.  Storing up treasures is not the same as a 401k or passbook account.  We live in a society where we expect to live 85 years without any help from our families, so we need to prepare for that.  Storing treasures is collecting beyond our needs and focusing on that instead of God.  Anything standing between me and God is darkness.

Jesus ends this section with a kind of summary.  If we trust in God, all those possessions we think we need fall away.  Living in trust makes life simple.  The only day we can live is today.

Tuesday, January 14, Chapter 7

Judging others is another hard teaching from Jesus, for we Americans especially. We are number 1 with the best way of life possible; everyone should follow our example.  As a Christian, I look at non-Christians, and fellow Christians, as not being as close to God as I am; exactly like the Pharisees.

We need  open fellowship with everyone, just the way Jesus did it.  Fellowship, not proselytizing or converting, until they knock on that door.

God will answer our knock at the door.  He will answer our questions and help us find what we seek.  Always remember that what we seek is Heaven.

Consider this passage from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship.  And it is hard to find.  On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn.  To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way.

Again from Bonhoeffer:  There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church.  He is a prophet and a preacher.  He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one.  But dark powers are mysteriously at work; it was these who sent him into our midst.

We must be ever watchful for false prophets, they are not just in ancient times.  They are members of every church.  They misuse the Word to get us to follow them, not God.  Watch.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by reminding us to build our Faith on the Solid Foundation of the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 15, Chapter 8

Now Matthew has Jesus move into a healing ministry, taking up all of chapter 8 and most of 9.  He begins with the healing of a leper, a task considered  as likely as raising the dead.  Note that the man knelt before Jesus, a word which often meant to worship.  The man knew that Jesus could heal him and Jesus did so.  The man’s faith was the important element.

Telling the man to say nothing indicates that this event did occur early in Jesus ministry.  Jesus was still trying to avoid conflict with the Temple authorities.  He had much to carry out before that last fateful encounter leading to the cross.  None-the-less, Jesus sent the man to the Temple to asked for cleansing by the priests, showing us that Jesus was no enemy of the Temple of God, only of those who corrupted it.

The centurion’s servant is an unsual healing in several ways.  Capernaum was Jesus headquarters, but was also a Greek/Roman city.  This centurion commanded a cohort or century of about 80 men, one of six in a legion.  The legion stationed in Capernaum was not Roman.  It was working for Herod Antipas, though trained by the Romans.  A centurion would equal a captain in the US Army.

He had wealth and power, but he came to Jesus in much the way the leper had, in a state of faith.  While none of the men in the legion in Capernaum were Jewish, this centurion, a gentile, believed.

With the healing of Peter’s mother, we again see Jesus touching her, but nothing else. He spoke no words, made no reference to faith.  Three different types of healing: a man of faith healed with a touch, a gentile’s request for another healed from a great distance, and Mary simply touched.

In verses 18-22, Jesus is again telling us to keep our full attention on God.  We cannot use excuses when God asks us to do something for him.  We must always do God’s work first.

Jesus gives us a great example of how to live that last section of chapter 6.  He knew God was taking care of him, so he slept through the storm.  The storms in our own lives continue to upset us because we are not willing to put our complete trust in God.

The demonic men on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (really a lake) present a strange picture as the demons fly into pigs.  We can see that the story is more about the reaction than about the men being healed of possession.  The region of Gadarenes was not Jewish, so we wonder why Jesus went there.  In this account, Jesus spoke only the word, go.  He traveled some distance through a storm for that one brief encounter.

Mark and Luke include the story as well and show more about the men, but for Matthew, the reaction of the people was important.  They told Jesus to get out of Dodge, he had messed with their livelihoods.

Note that the disciples had just questioned among themselves who this Jesus was, but the demons knew at once and announced it loudly.

Finally, note that the death of the pigs did not mean the death of the demons, that comes at the end of time.  But we do see the power of Jesus the Messiah over them.

Thursday, January 16, Chapter 9

Jesus sails back to the western shore, to Capernaum, where he meets a paralyzed man.  It is reasonable to assume the man was well-known and since Capernaum was the hometown of Andrew, Peter, James, and John, it is reasonable to assume they knew him personally.  In other words, he was not a plant, he could not walk.  On this occasion, Jesus teaches a different lesson.  He tells the man his sins are forgiven.

Only God can forgive sins, so the learned rabbis and scribes were fuming.  Jesus cleared it up by healing the man.  Since only God could do that, Jesus is God.

Jewish society of the day had an informal ranking of occupations, with priests and rabbis at the top of respectability and tax collectors near the bottom; hide tanners were lower and shepherds were only a little above the tax men.  For Jesus to call such a sinful man to follow him was a sure way of getting kicked off the social A-list.

Jesus did fast and maybe the disciples did as well, but Jesus kept it private.  There is no sign that John himself questioned Jesus.  It was some of his followers.

The raising of the dead girl becomes more dramatic by having the woman stop Jesus’ progress to save her first.  Back with the girl, Jesus does not make any claim to raising the dead.  He insists that she is asleep.  The flute players and the noisy crowd tells us that the house was already in mourning for the girl.  They believed she was dead.

The woman,  bleeding for 12 years, healed by touching the tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl.  Jews used the words for tassels and hem interchangeably in regard to the prayer shawl.  There were four tassels representing connection with the priest and with God.

None-the-less, it was her faith that healed her.

The blind, also by their faith.

Driving out demons was becoming so common that Matthew does not bother to describe the event.

With 7 billion people in the world, we followers of Jesus have much to do.

Friday, January 17. Chapter 10

In verse 1, the 12 are disciples, and in verse 2, they are apostles.  The Greek word apostolos means messenger.  Jesus chose 12 for special duties from a group of a hundred or more disciples.  Here, for the first time,  Matthew calls them apostles and has them sent into the harvest field and be  messengers of the Good News.

The rest of the chapter is a lengthy set of instructions.

Jesus’ ministry was always to Israel.  After his resurrection, the 12 would be commissioned to go to the rest of the world.

On this journey, depend on the people to support you. Do not even take a change of clothes.  If a town rejects you, move on.

Try to avoid trouble with the legal authorities.  For Jesus, having his apostles arrested could encourage the authorities to arrest him as well.

Remember that you are my students.  Do what I do, do not go your own way.  Do not be afraid.

Back in Matthew 5:9, we read, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Here, he says he has come to bring a sword.  It is a figure of speech.  Jesus is about Peace, but that gets people upset, so they think he and his followers are dangerous.  The stories in the New Testament tell us what happens; families are split, people attacked, beaten, jailed, killed.  Jesus does not wield a sword, but he has brought one into play.

Our families are important, but Jesus comes first. Nothing in this life is greater than Jesus.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence