Tag Archives: Isaiah

The Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46


As today’s readings exhibit, grape vines and grape vineyards are common images in the Bible representing the descendants of Abraham, the House of Israel. The Temple in Jesus’ day included a vine made of gold that grew around the entrance to the Holy Place. It was so large that each grape on the vine was the size of a bowling ball, and weighed much more because they were solid gold.

Grapes represent life, as well as Israel. That is one reason Jesus used wine in his remembrance celebration. When we say the blood of Jesus saves us, we leave out important points. We must include the body of Jesus; his life, his presence on earth, those years he spent living the human life.

We also leave out the connection of Jesus to Israel. Jesus is Israel. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is the true representation of Israel on earth. In his living, he did not change Israel, he only reminded Israel of what God expects of Israel.

Those of we Gentiles who have decided to walk in the way of Jesus have been grafted into the vine of Israel. Christians are not separate from Israel, we are a part of Israel.

When God says, So why, when I expected good grapes, did it produce sour, wild grapes? CJB God is talking to American Christians in our time. We cannot say, God was angry with the Hebrews; I’m glad I’m a modern Christian. No.

We must ask ourselves: when did I last feed the hungry, visit the sick, help the poor, build a house, prevent war, bring comfort?


Read my earlier comments on these NT readings here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Luke 1-5


Monday, May 5 Chapter 1

The first four verses give us much information.  The author is not named even as he names the recipient of the book.  The earliest sources we have available (about a century after the writing) name Luke as the author.  There is little doubt that the same person wrote this book and the book of Acts, where there are several clues pointing to Luke as the author.

It is clear that the author was well educated in Greek.  Luke was a Greek doctor with an analytical mind who wanted a neat and orderly report for Theophilus.  That does not mean the same thing in the First Century that it means in the Twenty-first.  History was written in the heroic style of Homer, not the clinical style of moderns.

We do learn that Luke followed several others in the writing of an account of Jesus’ life.  We have no idea how many were written, but it is likely that most were short accounts of a portion of Jesus ministry, and that most have been lost and the rest absorbed into the Four Gospels.  By the time Luke began his own account, there were at least 50 gospels for him to look at.  We do not have copies of any of them, but their names have survived in early writings.  That does not include the many dozens of later gospels from the second century on.  We do have copies of several dozen of them, the oldest being the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas from the early Second Century.

One more point regarding the Gospel writings.  Imagine that you have to write an account of the Watergate affair and your only source of information is the memories of the people in your community.  No written records, no internet, no libraries.  That is roughly what Luke and the others faced.  They each included the information available to them.

Luke is the only account to give priority of John’s birth over that of Jesus’.  That does not seem strange to us because John was six months older than his cousin, but for early readers it suggested that the more important person was John because he was mentioned first.  That was the writing style.

Notice that Luke mentions the visitation of angels to announce the births of both boys.  When Mary visits Elizabeth, John recognizes Jesus, even though neither is yet born.  Mary sings a song, a psalm, called the Magnificat because that is the first word in the Latin translation.

When John is born, his father also sings a psalm.  Both psalms are prophesies.

Tuesday, May 6 Chapter 2

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth we see the shepherds being the first to get the Good News.  We need to throw out our modern image of shepherds.  In Jesus’ day they were nearly the lowest class of people on the planet.  They did beat out lepers, beggars and tanners.  They were dirty, stinky, uneducated and often unreliable.  Worse, they never had time to clean themselves to visit the Temple so remained ritually unclean their whole lives.  It is a powerful image to have the Heavenly Choir sing just for them.

Because Jesus was the first-born male he was taken to the Temple to be dedicated to God.  Understand that it was normal for the first-born males to be so dedicated.  Jesus and all the others were expected to spend their lives working for God in what ever way was possible given their family prospects.  If they could afford it, the family would send the boy to live with a rabbi who would bring up another teacher.  If not, he would do his work, always on the lookout for ways to serve God while doing the work.

Simeon is waiting at the Temple for the eight-day old baby.  He also sings a prophetic psalm.  Anna also recognized Jesus and praised him to all who would listen.

The chapter ends with the great story of Jesus in His Father’s House, the Temple at the age of 12.  His bar mitzvah is still a year away, but he teaches like a man.

Wednesday, May 7 Chapter 3

John takes center stage again as he preaches repentance.  John was not unique.  For the three centuries leading to the destruction of the Temple, there was usually at least one desert preacher.  Jews knew such a preacher was a sign of the Messiah, so they flocked around them, hoping to see the Messiah arrive from Heaven on his great white horse.

John was different in his preaching.  He criticized those who came, challenging them to change their thinking.  He attacked the Temple leaders as well as Herod.  It seemed the more abusive he became, the more people were attracted to him.

Jesus came for baptism.  That fact raises many questions.  Jesus had no need for baptism, being without sin, yet he came.  Luke does not record any discussion between John and Jesus.  He does tell us that Jesus prayed while being baptized and that was when the Holy Spirit descended on him.

Some of the possibilities to explain why Jesus chose baptism:  He needed to connect with the preaching of his messenger, letting the people know he was the one John spoke of.  He gave us the example to follow.  He actually took on our sins, a kind of reverse baptism.  It was a ritual cleansing to begin his ministry.  God knows.

There are also many questions about the genealogy listing.  Whatever the differences with Matthew, the whole intent is to tell us that Jesus is related to King David, that he is the promised root of the stump of Jesse.

Thursday, May 8 Chapter 4

The temptations of Jesus represent common human temptations.  Jesus gives us examples of how we can resist those temptations.  Note:  only Jesus could have given us this account.

There is a danger in reading this section.  We too often fall into the trap of believing that this was the only time Jesus was tempted.  The truth is, he faced temptations every day.  That is why he often told people not to advertise his powers; why he slipped away from the crowds when they became too excited by his actions.  The devil continued to work on Jesus because he only had to succeed once.  If Jesus ever once turned away from God, if only for an instant, God’s Plan of Salvation would have been defeated.  The devil threw all his resources at one target.

Back at the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from Isaiah a familiar passage promising the Messiah and then said, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  The men there had known him as a child and could not believe he claimed Messiahship.

Moving to Capernaum, Jesus preformed his first miracle, as recorded by Luke.  He then healed many others, fulfilling the passage of Isaiah he read in Nazareth.

Friday, May 9 Chapter 5

Jesus is teaching to a large crowd and steps into a fishing boat, asking the owner to push out a ways so he can speak to the crowd more easily.  It was all a Spirit thing.  Simon would become the lead disciple.  When they went fishing, it was to show to a fisherman what he could expect as a fisher of men.

Healing a leper by touching him shocked those who saw it.  Touching a leper made Jesus unclean, everyone knew that.  Yet, he told the leper to go to the Temple (a three-day journey) for the purification ritual while he went on as though he was not contaminated.  That turned some people away from him while exciting others.

Jesus could heal from a distance, as he often did.  He touched the leper to show us that there are no untouchables.  No other person can make us unclean.

Jesus next heals the paralytic without touching him.

But first, he forgives the man’s sins.  The Pharisees and scribes had every right to be upset because only God can forgive sins.  Jesus did it specifically to get their reaction so that he could claim Godship without actually saying it.

Luke records that Jesus called himself the Son of Man.  This is the first use of the title.  It was closely associated with the Messiah.  It is used here in connection with a miracle.  Luke uses the title 24 more times, none with miracles.  It is the title Jesus preferred for himself.

Verse 26 literally refers to a b’rakhah, a Hebrew blessing common in the time.  It was used about anything that was special, giving God the credit.  This verse also shows the difference between the reactions of the religious experts and the common people.

Jesus called Levi (also called Matthew) as a disciple.  He invited Jesus to his house for a banquet to show both is respect and gratitude.  For Jews, a meal was an opportunity to share the Torah, the Word of God.  Any meal without the Word was equal to a pagan sacrifice.

Jesus again takes the position that he has come to associate with the unclean.  Even his disciples were unclean

In response to the question of fasting, Jesus seems to suggest that the Torah needs to be thrown out and a new system put in its place.  Yet, he insisted that he came to fulfill the Torah.  There is a Greek word in verse 38 translated as new.  The word really means renew.  Jesus is given the same message that John preached, repent and renew yourselves so that you can hold the newness of the Good News.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Palm Sunday


Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14- 27:66
Psalm 31:9-16

The long Matthew lesson for today covers the arrest and trial of Jesus.  You may see my comments in the Read Through the New Testament section by doing a search for Matthew 24-28.

But this is Palm Sunday, so go back to Matthew 19-23 and read the comments on chapter 21.

Psalm 31 gives us an account of the life of Jesus.  I am in distress.  I am the dread of my friends.  They plot to take my life.

Isaiah has a similar account.  I offered my back to those who beat me.  But he offers victory in the end.  It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.

There were times in Jesus’ ministry when the crowds following him numbered in the tens of thousands.  His entry into Jerusalem was roaring with praise.  His Apostles knew he was the Messiah and were no doubt eager for him to march to the palace and claim the throne.  Imagine their surprise when he went to the Temple instead and tried to clear out the market.  Talk about asking to be executed.

Palm Sunday is misleading.  The crowds loved what Jesus did for them.  The wanted and needed to be healed, so they followed a healer.  But they did not understand what it meant to follow.  Jesus acted the substance of following on Friday.  He expects obedience in all ways, even to death.

In this world, a follower cannot expect to live in a palace, but must always do those inconvenient things that upset many, yet help the needy.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Why Galilee?

Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23
Psalm 27:1, 5-13

If we look at a map of Israel and find the Sea of Galilee, the land to the west of it is where Jesus spent most of his three-year ministry.  In ancient times, Zebulun and Naphtali were located in that region.  Both Isaiah and Matthew make note of the towns and the region.  Why is it important?

Isaiah adds the detail that, In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles; another clear reference to the coming Messiah.  Centuries later, in the time of Jesus, Judeans looked down on Galilee because there were so many Roman cities in the district.  In fact, Sepphoris, one of the finest examples of such a city, was just five miles from Nazareth.  In spite of that, Isaiah had the Messiah coming from such a place.  Think perhaps of a future President coming from a mountain in Montana.  Come to think of it, that might be reason enough to vote for him, but back to Jesus.

He very deliberately went to Capernaum on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee and used that city as his base of operations, later using Peter’s house as home-away-from-home.  When he first arrived in the city, he preached the same message John the Baptizer gave.

However, his call of Andrew and Simon is in marked contrast to the way John the Apostle recorded it in last week’s reading.  In John, we see Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptizer.  He and an unnamed disciple heard John call Jesus the Lamb of God and they went to investigate Jesus.  Andrew at once became a follower and brought Simon in as well.

Matthew says that Jesus saw the two of them in their fishing boat and called them to follow him.  This is one of many such confusions that occur among the four Gospels.  Such things are the stuff of attacks on the validity of Christianity.  Generally, the people who make the attacks have not bothered themselves with such things as the backgrounds of the authors, the style of writing in the First Century, the purpose of the individual Gospel, and many other important matters.

To keep it short, none of the Gospel writers were writing history.  They all had a theme, a message that was foremost in their minds.  They used loosely collected stories told and retold over 30, 40, 60 years.  They did things that would have a modern historian blacklisted for life.  They made up things that fit their theme, things that were like stories they knew, but needed to be changed to fit the theme.

I am a historian by training and it is alien to my creed, but if I wrote history in the First Century, I would make up things to fit the story.  That is how the ancients wrote history.  Remember that the Gospels are not history anyway, they tell the Good News of The Messiah Who Has Come to Save Everyone Who Lives or Has Ever Lived.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Behold, The Lamb Of God

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42
Psalm 40:1-12

David cries out, “For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.”  He also says, “I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.”

Even as David sank deep into the sins of adultery and murder, failing God on a grand scale, he never doubted God’s faithfulness to him.

Paul reminds the church at Corinth that God remains faithful even as we fail him.  He gives us gifts to use for good.  We must strive to do as He commands us.

We sin when we lose sight of God, of Jesus.  Sometimes we know we choose to sin and we do it anyway, but mostly we sin without realizing it.  I might say something encouraging to a friend, but he hears it as a criticism.  We live in sin.

There is no way to describe the Lamb of God without is sounding mystical.  It is not science, it cannot be proven.  I have to accept it on faith.  It is not, however, without evidence.  Millions of lives changed by accepting that faith.

When John spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, everyone who heard him knew that he was referring to the sacrificial lamb offered every morning and evening in the Temple as well as the Passover Lamb once a year to make them clean so they could approach God.

By accepting my sin as his own, Jesus died taking that sin to the grave.  He came out of the grave, but my sin stayed buried.  I believe that.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence