Tag Archives: Peter

Mark 3-7

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Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, March 24, Chapter 3

We start chapter 3 with the fifth conflict.  The others start at 2:6, 2:15, 2:18, & 2:23.  Mark bundled them together and put them early in his account perhaps to help us see that his ministry rubbed people the wrong way and ultimately led to his death.  He also gives us keys to understand why the conflicts occurred.

This man with a shriveled hand has the look of a setup, mainly because people with obvious deformities were not allowed in the synagogue for the same reason they were not allowed in the Temple; ritual purity.  Nonetheless, Jesus has another lesson opportunity.

It was, just for the record, legal to heal on the Sabbath if the life was in danger.  Jesus saw the man’s soul in danger.  The Pharisees only saw a cripple.

With the man standing in front of them all, Jesus used the common argument of ‘from the greater to the lesser’.  Should I do good or evil?  No wonder they kept quiet.  Jesus knew they refused to concede the point, thus his distress.  This is the only time the Greek texts of the Gospels uses the word for anger.

Notice two things: there is no mention of sin or faith, and Jesus did not say he was healed.  That adds to the idea that the man was a plant by the Pharisees.  He may have confessed his sins and been forgiven another time, but not this time.

Jesus never gave the Pharisees much to work with in their plotting.  He never said the words they needed to prove he was a blasphemer.  He never did anything that violated the direct Word of God.  So their plotting turned to false charges.

Verses 7-12 summarize the growing ministry and give us a reason for appointing the Twelve.  As we learned in Acts, there were a couple of hundred disciples, the Twelve Apostles, and the innermost circle of Peter, James, & John.

Think about the men and women Jesus had as followers.  They chose to become like Jesus.  They loved and respected him as he did them.  He was comfortable with them; they were friends.  That is a powerful picture of the Church, the Bride of Christ.  We fellowship together as friends, and as equals.  The Pharisees concentrated on being separated from others.

Let us consider the reasons why Jesus was crazy and should be put away:

1)      He abandoned a decent carpentry profession,

2)      He refused any payment as an itinerant preacher/teacher,

3)      He surrounded himself with questionable men,

4)      He constantly said and did things that offended the leaders,

5)      And now he allowed the crowds to run over him.

It is little wonder his family came to take care of him.

In the middle of that, the leaders came down the mountain to accuse him of being a devil.  (Beelzebub is never used outside the Gospels.)

Verse 28, the Hebrew word for truth would be Amen, one of the names for God.

In verse 32, Mark refers to Mary this one and only time.  It is a little odd given her role as a faithful follower.

Augustine (around 400 AD) Thus he spurned the earthly name of his mother in comparison to heavenly kinship.

“Whoever does God’s will….”  Notice that Jesus places men and women on the same level.

Tuesday, March 25, Chapter 4

Mark did not include many parables.  We have to go to Luke and Matthew for the full list.  But here, Mark records 4 in a row.

The Sower

Chrysostom (about 400 AD) As the sower fairly and indiscriminately disperses seed broadly over all his field, so does God offer gifts to all, making no distinction between rich and poor, wise and foolish, lazy or diligent, brave or cowardly.  He addresses everyone, fulfilling his part, although knowing the results beforehand…. Why then, tell me, was so much of the seed lost?  Not through the sower, but through the ground that received it—meaning the soul that did not listen…. But how can it be reasonable, one asks, to sow among the thorns, or on the rock, or alongside the road?  Maybe it is not reasonable insofar as it pertains only to seeds and earth, for the bare rock is not likely to turn into tillable soil, and the roadside will remain roadside and the thorns, thorns.  But in the case of free wills and their reasonable instruction, this kind of sowing is praiseworthy.  For the rocky soul can in time turn into rich soil.

Verse 9, the Gospel is open to ALL.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In his explanation to the disciples, Jesus stressed receiving the seed, as opposed to sowing the seed in the parable.  And then he paraphrases from Isaiah 6:9-10.

We think that Mark was writing at a time when persecutions were starting in Rome.  He may have included this section to encourage the faithful.

A Lamp

God is Light.  We read in the second verse of the Bible, darkness was over the surface of the deep,and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said,“Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good,and he separated the light from the darkness.

Without God, there is only darkness.

The Growing Seed

The Word of God is a part of nature, a part of this world.  Jesus was no alien.  Neither is God.  His Kingdom is growing whether we know it or understand it.

The Mustard Seed

A mustard plant, in a warm climate, will grow to about 10 feet.

All 4 of the parables describe something small or insignificant becoming something unexpected.  The harvest for the Kingdom will surprise all of us.

Having given his disciples something to think about, he, the Apostles, and many disciples entered fishing boats (probably belonging to the four fishermen) and headed across the lake.  It is called the Sea of Galilee, but it is a fresh water lake.  The water is quite cold because it comes from snow melt in the mountains of Lebanon.

In reality, Jesus calming the water is a parable.  Jesus had just explained how powerful God is and by extension, how powerful Jesus is.  When the waves kick up, the disciples panic.  They wake Jesus, not to calm the storm, but to make sure he knows they are all going to die.  In all fairness, the fishermen among them knew of many swamped boats  and men killed on the lake.  As far as they knew, they were on the Titanic.

Jesus tries to remind them that they need not fear while he is with them.  Time enough for fear when he leaves them, but for now, God will provide.  Jesus spoke the same words he used in 1:25 to drive out the evil spirit.  Psalm 107:23-30.

Jesus must have thought that his teaching had indeed fallen on rocky soil.

 

Wednesday, March 26, Chapter 5

Mark now moves us from storm-tossed disciples to a storm-tossed man.  Crossing the lake, they arrived in the Decapolis, a group of ten independent Greek cities that had been there for centuries.  Jesus had just preached about growing seeds.  Now he will plant one seed in an unlikely man.

For the only time, Jesus first command to leave the man did not work.  The man was filled with about 2,000 demons, so Jesus first got the name, Legion, which gave him ownership of them.  They knew Jesus would order the out, so they begged to enter the pigs.  Notice that Jesus simply allowed them to do as they asked.

Mark gives us a series of three unclean people for Jesus to heal.  The first was the demon possessed Greek.

For the next two, Mark builds one within the other.  First, Jairus asks Jesus to heal his daughter, but on the way, a woman touches him.

Dysfunctional uterine bleeding, as it is known medically, affects about 15% of women and treatment can take some months or even years.  For a woman of that day, 12 years was not unheard of.

She was sure that if she touched the tassel of his prayer cloak, she would be healed, and it would not be enough of a touch to make Jesus unclean.  She was right.

Jesus felt part of his healing power leave him and made a scene until the woman admitted she was the one.  We do not know if Jesus knew at once who touched him or if he genuinely wanted to know.  It does not matter.  He wanted the woman to know that she was loved and respected.  This is the only time in the four Gospels that Jesus called a woman, ‘daughter’.

Meanwhile, the daughter of Jairus died.  Jesus took her hand and told her to get up.  Mark has woven in a beautiful connection with these two healings.  He heals a woman who has been menstruating for 12 years, calling her daughter.  He heals a 12 year old who will start menstruating, calling her little girl.  And he touches both.  A Pharisee would grow old trying to get himself ritually clean after that.

Thursday, March 27, Chapter 6

Jesus had a tremendous problem, he was average.  If he had been 6-4, 225, with silver streaks in his dark hair, with a voice like a megaphone and a brain like Einstein, people would have been more impressed.  When the people of his home town saw him, they wondered what all the fuss was about.  ‘You remember Jesus, the one who quit carpentry.  He looks just like his brother James.’

One useful thing we get out of this visit is the names of his brothers.  James became the Bishop of the Jerusalem Church, and Jude wrote a letter that made it to scripture status.  They came to it later, but they were influential followers of their big brother, technically big half-brother.  It is likely that none of the sisters were strong followers, or they would have been mentioned also.  The second boy was named after his father, indicating to the world that Jesus had a different father.  The first son would carry his father’s name.

Notice that Jesus could not do much and the reason was the lack of faith.  That surprised Jesus, reminding us that he was human.  God let him have the knowledge he needed when he needed it.  It was necessary because no human brain could contain the knowledge of God or even a tiny fraction of that knowledge.

Having gone home and re-experienced being ‘normal’, Jesus sends his normal Apostles out to do the things Jesus generally did.  This was a practice session for when Jesus went back to Heaven.

In verse 8, Jesus allows them to take a walking stick (it is the same Greek word used for the king’s scepter).  They were to move quickly and depend on others for their food and lodging.  Preach the Gospel from of your weakness.

Mark does something a bit strange regarding John the Baptizer; he devotes 3 verses to his ministry and 14 verses to his death.

In verse 14, the Herod of the year is Antipas, son of the Great.  The Romans appointed him ruler of Galilee while Archelaus got Judea, and Philip II was stuck with Traconitis.  They each held the title of Tetrarch, a word meaning four rulers even though there were just the three.

Back in verse 1:14, Mark says that John was put in prison, but he holds the rest of the story for now as a flashback.  Notice as you read that there are three parallels with Jesus.  Antipas stands in for Pilate, both Antipas and Pilate like what they hear and see, both John and Jesus are buried by friends, and there are reports of resurrection for both.

Jews did not celebrate birthdays, considering it a pagan ritual.  No problem for Antipas.

Feeding the Five Thousand is the only miracle found in all 4 Gospels.  It is helpful for us to think of it as a parable also.  Check out Exodus 16 to review the Manna; Jesus is the New Manna.

Mark starts with a new word for him, ‘Apostles’.  We can easily forget that they were busy traveling Galilee, preaching, teaching, healing, driving out demons, and they are reporting back to Jesus bubbling with excitement at all they have seen and done.  Jesus pulls them away to eat and rest, but they become surrounded by a massive crowd.

Verse 37 speaks powerfully to us, ‘You give them something to eat.’

Notice the Apostles.  They just had an incredible experience, but they cannot recognize that they still have the power to do what Jesus does in the end.  Jews considered bread to be from God and the prayer before every meal was for bread, nothing else.  The prayer went like this, Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who bringeth forth bread from the earth.  Jesus instructed us to thank God for our bread daily.  There was the belief among Jews then that whatever Moses did, the Messiah would do.  Moses gave Manna, Jesus gave bread.

The manner of serving the people (verse 41) looks remarkably like the last supper.

Something disturbs Jesus, and he sends the disciples away while he prays.  The Gospels record only 3 times when Jesus went away to pray, always when there was trouble.

The fourth watch was from 3 to 6 AM, so they have been on the water nearly all night and are making no headway.  Jesus, though, has been talking with God all that time, so he is ready to go.  Seeing their troubles, he walks out to help.

Still, the Apostles and disciples cannot believe Jesus can do this.  No one can walk on water.  His response to them is the same as what God says in Exodus 3:14, ‘It is I.’  Remember, it was just at the end of chapter 4 that Jesus calmed the storm.

To recap, the Apostles go out, do miracles and come back apparently brain dead.  They have no understanding about feeding the people that they should have done it and could have at least have tried.  Now they do not expect Jesus to calm another storm.  When the Holy Spirit filled them at Pentecost, they had to feel pretty stupid every time they remembered these events.

To top it off, people saw Jesus get out of the boat at Gennesaret, and they recognized him, but the Apostles thought he was a ghost.

Friday, March 28, Chapter 7

Ritual cleanliness is the topic, one the Pharisees love.  If a priest is in the Temple and slaughters a lamb for sacrifice, his hands are clean.  If he is at home and he touches the dress of his wife who is having her period, his hands are unclean.  The Pharisees could give thousands of examples like that.

Before every meal (twice a day then), a Pharisee would hold his fingers pointed up as a servant poured 3 ounces (a log) of ritually pure water over them.  He then pounded each fist against the opposite fingers.  Then he held the fingers pointed down as the servant poured another 3 ounces over the fingers.  Clean!

There is nothing in God’s commands that comes close to this notion.  This is an excellent example of what Jesus was working against.  It helps us understand why he always seemed upset with the Pharisees.

In verse 11 we learn of a strange practice that was common among the Pharisees.  If I buy a van and set it aside for driving people to church, that is Corban.  But rather than give it to the church, under the Pharisees’ rules, I could continue to use it through the week for my personal ride.  I could not pick up anyone else, however, unless they were going to church.

What the Pharisees did was create a huge loophole in the idea of dedicating a gift to God.  They would declare all they owned to be Corban, and then they would act as the executors of the estate.  They alone would decide how money was spent and how property was used.  If a parent needed help buying food, the Pharisees would say, “Sorry, this is only for God.”  They violated the command to honor their parents so they could follow a practice they had created.

We must be careful of using tricks to avoid God’s commands to love one another.  Jesus always put human needs ahead of ritual.  He healed on the Sabbath because that was when people needed him.  We should worship God on the Sabbath (or Sunday in Christianity) and we worship God by serving people.

The most revolutionary verse in the New Testament is 15.  Our spiritual relationship with God is first and foremost.  Any ritual we attach to that is fine, but only when the ritual is either the result of the Spirit of God, or brings us closer to the Spirit.

Verse 19 is clearly intended to support what we have recently read in Acts about eating pigs and shrimp.  The food does not make us unclean.  It might make us sick, but still clean.

As if to prove his point, Jesus goes to gentile territory to heal a gentile girl.

Let me quote from F. F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of JesusWhy did the woman not take offence at such an unpromising reply to her request?  One obvious reason was that she was determined to get what she wanted for her daughter.  In addition, what if there was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke, as much as to say, ‘You know what we Jews are supposed to think of you Gentiles; do you think it is right for you to come and ask for a share in the healing which I have come to impart to Jews?” … Again, what are we to say of the term ‘dogs’?  That is a term of abuse, if ever there was one….  It is the dogs beneath the table.  That in itself might suggest that they are household pets, the children’s playmates; and this is confirmed by the fact that the word for ‘dogs’ used by both Jesus and the woman is a diminutive [little dog].

Remember that Paul always went first to the synagogue when arriving at a new town.  Jesus came to the Jews first and many thousands accepted the Gospel.  Gentiles would receive the Gospel next.  This woman was willing to ask for something that did not belong to her.  She had faith in Jesus, more faith than the people he had just dealt with, including perhaps the disciples.

In any case, Jesus healed the girl from a distance without mentioning faith.

He moved on south into the Decapolis again to heal the deaf-mute.

A quote from Ephrem the Syrian (about 350 AD).  That power which may not be handled came down and clothed itself in members that may be touched, that the desperate may draw near to him, that in touching his humanity they may discern his divinity.  For that speechless man the Lord healed with the fingers of his body.  He put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue.  At that moment with fingers that may be touched, he touched the Godhead that may not be touched…. Then his mouth which had been so closed up that it could not give birth to a word, gave birth to praise him who made its barrenness fruitful.

At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, but they could not hear.  In frustration perhaps, he goes to gentiles and finds faith and someone who hears and understands.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Mountain of God

 

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9
Psalm 99

Ambrose: If anyone therefore desires to behold this image of God, he must love God so as to be loved by him, no longer as a servant but as a friend who observes his commandments, that he may enter the cloud where God is. (333-397 AD)

Starting with chapter 19, Moses makes several trips up and down the mountain.  Just to clear away the Charlton Heston mistake, the first time the Ten Commandments, and others, were given, Moses and all the people were standing on the plain just outside the camp.  They were not burned into stone.

But the mountain is what we are considering today.  In Exodus, God descends to the mountain and Moses (with others at different times) ascends the mountain.  We could say they met half-way except that God was already with them.  In Psalms, we are to go to God at His Mountain.  In Matthew, Jesus went up the mountain to talk with Moses and Elijah, kind of reversing the roles from the Exodus account.  Finally, Peter comments on what he heard on that same mountain when he, James and John were invited along.

What does it take for us to ‘enter the cloud where God is’?  The scriptures tell us that Jesus had 120 faithful disciples, 12 of whom he appointed apostles.  Yet, when it was time to climb the mountain of God, he invited 3.  Why?  They were ready; they had grown in their faith and could look upon the heavenly body of the Messiah without dying.

Consider what it would do to look upon Perfection with sinful eyes; to feel the heat of Truth on our false flesh.  I want to be ready to go to the Mountain of God, but for me and most of us, it might be best to do it after we have given up these bodies.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 11-15

158452014   Ancient church at Antioch, Turkey

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 24, Chapter 11

The first 14 verses are a repeat of chapter 10.  In 15-18, gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, even before baptism or profession of faith.  Only God and the Son of Man get to choose, not humans.  Even Peter chose not to argue with Jesus this time.

Antioch became the second leading center of church growth and remained for centuries as a center of the faith.

When the faithful at Jerusalem heard what was happening there, they sent Barnabas to investigate and make sure they were staying true to the teaching of Jesus.  Barnabas, impressed, preached and then went to Tarsus to get Saul to join him in a year-long ministry in Antioch.  In that time, those who opposed the church branded the sect with the derogatory name of Christians.

Notice that Barnabas was the leader with Saul in support.  Their roles would reverse, but not for another few years.

Tuesday, February 25, Chapter 12

You have to have a score card to keep track of the Kings Herod.  This time it is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great.  He took over from the exiled Herod Antipas.

The events described in this chapter took place around 10 years after the resurrection.  Agrippa beheaded James the Apostle, but Luke chose not to tell us anything else about it.  The public reaction did encourage Agrippa to arrest Peter for the same purpose.

The prison escape is compelling reading, but do not lose sight of why God chose to free Peter here, but did not free him later in Rome.  Even after 10 years, Peter was the leader of the Church.  James, the brother of Jesus was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but his influence was far less than Peter’s.  Luke only mentions John with Peter and the other ten not at all.  Paul was still some years away from his full authority.  Peter was the center of the church in the human sense.

Peter made his way to Mary’s house.  This is the Mary who is the mother of John Mark, yet another helper to Paul years later, after they made up over a misunderstanding.  Many scholars today believe John Mark as a youth, was present at the arrest of Jesus.  More on that in a later book.

Syphilis may have caused the death of Agrippa, but God arranged the timing.

Wednesday, February 26, Chapter 13

With this chapter, Saul, finally called Paul, begins to move to the center stage.  The church at Antioch, instigated by the Holy Spirit, commission Barnabas and Saul to a specific missionary journey to Cyprus.  The two are becoming equals even as Barnabas gets top billing.  Their assistant was the young John Mark.

The two move on to Pisidian Antioch in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey, with John Mark going on to Jerusalem.  In a synagogue there, Paul, invited to speak, gives the now familiar outline of the scriptural testimony to the Messiah.  This time, their words pleased the people who invited them to return the following Saturday.

Jealousy interceded and some Jews started speaking against Paul and Barnabas, so Paul announced he would turn to speaking to the gentiles.  However, being chased from the area quickly became a way of life.

Thursday, February 27, Chapter 14

Here in verse 4 and again in 14, Luke calls Paul and Barnabas apostles, the only times in Acts.  However, a number of other people are called apostles at different times.  It is not reserved for the Twelve.  The New Testament holds apostles to the highest standards, assuming for them the duties of missionaries, healers, and representatives of Jesus on earth.  The First Century Church seems to have had a large number of apostles of the caliber of Paul and Barnabas, not to mention the Twelve.

The difficulties in Iconium were common experiences for early Christians, not just for Paul.  Every apostle and disciple preaching the Word met with both acceptance and rejection.  An important lesson for us is in verses 6-7.  There comes a time when we have to move on.  Not everyone will receive the Word of God.

One of the more recent early church fathers, Bede, writing in the early 700’s in England, had this to say on the miracle:

Just as that lame man whom Peter and John cured at the door of the temple prefigured the salvation of the Jews, so too this sick Lycaonian prefigured the people of the Gentiles….

Paul tried to help his listeners understand what God does for all of us; that we should thank Him every day for those great gifts.  He might have won the day, but the trouble makers from Iconium arrived to promote ugliness to the crowd; again, a common occurrence for Paul.

I turn again to the writing of Chrysostom about 390, only a few decades after Christianity became accepted by the Roman Empire:

Believe me, it is possible to suffer things now worse than what Paul suffered.  Those enemies pelted him with stones, but it is now possible to pelt with words that are worse than stone.  What then must one do?  The same that he did.  He did not hate those who cast the stones.  After they dragged him out, he entered their city again, to be a benefactor to those who had done him such wrongs….  Such things are worthy of crowns, worthy of proclamations by the heralds, worthy of ten thousand good things, not worthy of stones.  And yet having suffered the opposite, he did the opposite to what was expected.  For this is the splendid victory.

The two missionaries retraced their path and encouraged those who became followers.  They also selected men and women, strong in the Spirit, to become church leaders.  The Greek word used for ‘elders’ is presbutevrou, presbyterian, a term used generally of leaders.

Antioch, by the way, was the home church of Chrysostom, just 3 centuries later; Paul and Barnabas did excellent work there.  Having set those churches on the right road, the exhausted travelers returned to their home church in Antioch where they presented a slide show of their trip.

Friday, February 28. Chapter 15

Reading the first 35 verses of this chapter, you may not get the full sense of what was happening.  The young and growing church faced a crisis that could have split them into a civil war that could have damaged the church and the faith for centuries, even to today.  The emotions on both sides were high, and both sides had proofs to offer from the scriptures.

This Cliff Note version gives us the impression that Paul and Barnabas let the Jerusalem church serve as the senior elders as was their place.  Both Peter and Jesus’ brother James spoke wisely and strongly in support of the Gentile ministry, James using significant scriptural support.

Sadly, the chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas going separate ways over the issue of John Mark.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Acts 1-5

 

Drawing above: When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 10, Chapter 1

Writing sometime around 390 AD, John Chrysostom remarked, “To many people this book, both its content and its author, is so little known that they are not even aware it exists.”  He then did his best to bring the Acts of the Apostles to light.  Remember that he was writing only about 200 years after the last Apostle died and before the books of the New Testament were agreed upon.  Many did not accept Acts as scripture, only as an interesting read.

We will find it more than just interesting.  Luke, having written a Gospel, now describes events of the early church.  Beginning in verse 2, he stresses the importance of the Holy Spirit in that experience.

When we read the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, we find no contradictions.  The Gospel account is a quick summary, expanded in Acts.  Now we see Jesus rising into a cloud, but not just any cloud, He rose into the Cloud of God, the Cloud that led the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land.

In verse 14 we read that the 120 apostles met every day in prayer.  In the Gospel, Luke adds that they met continually in the Temple.  There was no other place indoors where that many people could gather, not even in Herod’s palace.

Since Jesus chose the Twelve to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel and since Judas killed himself, the Eleven suggested two men to replace Judas: Joseph and Matthias.  We can speculate that Jesus treated both men with special favor, but we do not know anything about them.  Lots were cast and Matthias became an Apostle, much the way we decide which goal a team will defend.  Neither man appears again in the Bible.

Tuesday, February 11, Chapter 2

Pentecost deserves some explanation.  The word is Greek, meaning 50, because it took place 50 days after the Saturday following Passover.  In Hebrew it was, and is, called the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), also sometimes Feast of Harvest or First Fruits.  On the first day of the festival, priest harvested wheat, ground it, made it into bread, and offered it at the Temple as the first fruit of the harvest.  An earlier first fruit harvest of barley took place earlier on the first Sunday after Passover.  We as Christians should celebrate it because Jesus rose from the grave that very day, becoming the First Fruit of the Eternal Harvest.

Forth-nine days later, the Holy Spirit filled 120 followers with a power that must have felt like fire.  Peter preached his best sermon and thousands of lives were changed forever.  All of the followers spread throughout the city like a flood, preaching and teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit.  They could speak Aramaic but be understood by a Greek speaker as speaking in Greek and a Syrian in his language at the same time.  The Holy Spirit became a universal translator.

In the days that followed, only the Twelve did the miracles, but all joined together in complete trust, sharing all that they had.  The phrase, ‘breaking bread’, simply means they ate together.  Spreading the Word all started just as Jesus said it would, in Jerusalem, then Judah, Samaria, Galilee, and the world.  It is fitting that the Romans aided the rapid spread of the Way, as it was first called.  Their transportation system was one of the best known before modern times.

Wednesday, February 12, Chapter 3

Peter and John healed a crippled man, well, not really.  Jesus through the Holy Spirit healed a man, a man who accepted the power of God on faith.  The message of this chapter is that everyone is crippled and in need of the healing power of Jesus.  Peter said, ‘Repent, then and turn to God that your sins may be wiped out.’  It is sin that cripples us; it is sin that we need to repent.  Understand though that God forgives sin and we are healed in that, but we still live in a world with worldly bodies that decay and die.  Asking God to cure a disease will only postpone the death all Christians look forward to.

Thursday, February 13, Chapter 4

Remember that the Apostles and disciples were preaching and teaching in the Temple and in the synagogues to Jews almost exclusively.  They were not peddling a new religion, but rather claiming that Jesus was the Messiah promised by the Scriptures and that he rose from the grave.  The religious leaders believed they were rid of the problem when they had Jesus killed, but his followers continued to spread the same message, adding the resurrection to what the leaders perceived as blasphemy.  When Peter and John healed the crippled man, the leaders decided to go on the attack once again.

A note on the high priest.  In the days of Jewish kings, the high priest was the second most powerful person in the land because the nation was ruled by the religion, somewhat like Iran today.  In the time of Jesus, the political rulers were Roman, so the high priest was the most powerful Jewish leader.  Annas had been appointed to the position at the time of Jesus birth and held it for 21 years when the Romans forced his removal.

However, Annas was rich and powerful and able to control the office through the next six office holders, five of whom where his sons and one his son-in-law.  In the years of Jesus ministry and the beginnings of the church, the high priest was the son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas.

The Captain of the Temple Guard was the highest ranking officer of the small Jewish army, small because the Romans kept it that way.  He, none-the-less, held a powerful position, in part because he worked closely with both the high priest and the Roman legions.

Notice in verse seven the leaders get right to the issue of blasphemy.  The scriptures say that only God can heal, so it they claimed they did it or that Jesus did it, they would be guilty of blasphemy.  Peter threw it in their faces, ‘it is by Jesus the Messiah, the one you murdered.’  The leaders had a problem: healing comes from God and the man was clearly healed.  He was a man they had all seen before.  To claim it was faked was absurd.  In the end they warned Peter and John to stop preaching and let them go.

The response of Peter and John was to pray for even more of the Holy Spirit to speak the bold words they knew angered the authorities and put their own lives in jeopardy.

Luke reminds us of how the Followers of the Way lived.  It was a true commune, each sharing what they had as it was needed.  We are introduced to Barnabas who will later become one of Paul’s closest associates.

Friday, February 14, Chapter 5

What was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira?  The answer takes us back to Luke’s first book when Jesus spoke with the rich young ruler.

18:24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  18:25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  18:26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 18:27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”  

 

Note that in verses 4:35, 4:37, and 5:2, Luke uses the same phrase, ‘put it at the apostles’ feet.’  An important Greek word is used here, nosphizein, meaning to misappropriate. The difference is that Ananias tried to pass it off as the full amount.  All he had to do was announce, ‘Here is part of the sale. I can give you more as needed.’  Keep in mind what Jesus said in Matt 6:2-4.  Ananias was being a hypocrite.

The Greek word translated ‘died’ was used in ancient times only to describe a person struck down by God.  Why was the penalty so heavy?  Ananias and his wife were no longer controlled by the Holy Spirit but by Satan, by greed.  The Holy Spirit is Life, Satan is death.

In verse 11, the Greek word, ekklesia, is used for the first time.  In English it is church.

Solomon’s Colonnade or Portico, located along the eastern wall of the Court of the Gentiles, was used by many groups for teaching and meetings.  The followers of the Way seem to have taken control of a portion of it.

Verse 17 starts the first great escape.  We see the leaders filled with jealousy.  That tells us much about the true nature of their attacks on the still tiny Messianic movement.  Nothing is said about the jailers here, but remember that if a prisoner escaped, the jailer was killed.  Later, we are told they were still at their posts.

In verse 20, the angel tells the Twelve to ‘stand firm’ in the Temple.  They had to wait for sunrise when the gates were opened again.  While they were teaching, the captain took his men to bring them, carefully, to the Sanhedrin to be questioned.

Notice in verse 28 the leaders will not even speak the name ‘Jesus’, perhaps out of fear the very name contains powers they cannot control.  Peter speaks for the group and claims Jesus to be the Prince of God and the Savior of man.  The word for savior is used in the Old Testament only of God and of those defeating evil.

Gamaliel was important because he is still considered the greatest teacher of the Law.  He is important to the early church because Saul who became Paul was his student.  Later, in Acts 22:3, Paul claimed he was well trained by Gamaliel.  Here in chapter 5, Gamaliel, perhaps with Saul standing beside him, suggests that the Sanhedrin allow Peter and crew to destroy themselves as did all the other would be Messiahs.

Pay special attention to verse 39 and compare it to Deut 18:20-22.

They were flogged according to Deut 25:2-3.  We do not know how many lashes their ‘crime’ required.  It did not matter to the Twelve, they rejoiced for their bloody backs.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 24-28

The picture above is borrowed from Ruth Schwenk’s blog, The Better Mom. October 12, 2011

This is an ancient oil lamp from several thousand years ago.  It is small, barely covering one palm. As I hold it, I imagine walking in the darkness with only a small flicker coming out of the tip, barely penetrating the darkness. I have to hold it close to the ground, and sometimes close to me, to even see where I am going.  This is likely what the Psalmist had in mind when he penned the words “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”  It is not a lot of light.  It is just enough light to take that next step.  Though the darkness around me can feel great, and the questions remain unanswered, God’s Word is enough for me to continue on the path.  His Word illuminates our path, sheds light on His character, His promises, and His plans.

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, February 3, Chapter 24

The Temple destroyed in 70 AD; the gold and jewels taken to Rome, along with thousands of captured slaves.  The wealth used to construct the Coliseum.  The walls of the Temple pushed over the edge of the massive platform.  The stones were not seen again until 1968.

When the disciples asked about the end times, the most important words Jesus gave them were, ‘watch out that no one deceives you.’

The abomination referred to in verse 15 comes from Daniel 9:25-27.  In 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes placed a pagan altar to Zeus on the Altar of God in the Temple.  Jesus is telling us that Daniel tells us about events in the end times, including a new desecration of the Altar.  Anyone caught in that time will need to flee to the hills.  But Jesus may also have the events of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 in mind.

Verse 29 quotes Isa. 3:10 & 34:4.  In verses 30-31, if we had any doubts before, the angels and trumpets will end them.

In verse 32 Jesus returns to the lesson of the fig tree, using it as a symbol of signs of the coming of the end times.  When Jesus says, ‘this generation will not pass away’, he is not talking about the end, but rather the beginnings of the events leading to the end times.  From our stand point, 2,000 years later, it is easy to assume that there are many thousands more years to come.

Jesus does make clear that even he does not know when all these things will happen.  Consider with suspicion anyone who claims to know.

The image of ‘one taken and one left’ may simply refer to normal death.  We do not know when it will happen.  All I know is that I have a 50/50 chance of living to age 86 and I have a one chance in 99 of reaching the century mark.  I could also die before I finish this sentence.  Whee, made it.  What Jesus expects of us is to live as though the end is here.  We cannot get so involved with living our own lives that we forget God.

Tuesday, February 4, Chapter 25

The three parables that make up this chapter deal with the end times, so continue the ideas of the preceding chapter.  As to the first parable, allow me to paraphrase shamelessly from Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.

In the traditional wedding, the groom walks with family and friends to the house of the bride and returns to his house for the festivities.  But, the walk back winds through as many streets as possible so that everyone gets a chance to meet and greet.  Meanwhile, the main wedding guests are waiting at the groom’s house.

The 10 young women have their small lamps to show everyone who they are.  It is indecent for a woman to be out at night without such a light, even today.  Also, the light is not used to light the path but to show the face.  It is all about maintaining a good reputation.

As the night wears on, the girls snooze.  When the announcement comes that the groom and his bride are coming down the street, the 10 women pick up their lamps which are nearly out of oil.  They are too small to hold more than a few ounces, so 5 women refill their lamps as the others beg for some of the oil.  Getting no help, the 5 rush away to borrow oil from people they know and return to find the door closed.

This message is for Christians.  We may come to church every Sunday.  We may give large amounts of money.  But if we are not ready when the Groom arrives, the door may be slammed in our faces.

How do we keep ourselves ready?  Reread Matt 11:4-6.  More than that, consider that the Bible (NIV) uses the word ‘Justice’ 132 times, 30 of them in Isaiah alone.  When the Bible speaks of justice, it is talking about treating people as equals; making sure people have clothing, food, shelter, education, and medical care.

The Parable of the Talents follows the Ten Women in its content and context.  Being ready for the Return of the Messiah includes working hard in the meantime.  We do not just take a long nap as the ten women did, we need to use our talents to bring justice into the world.  We cannot worry that we do not have the talents of others.  God has given each of us a skill for love and he expects us to use it.

If the Parable of the Ten Women is about being ready for the heavenly party, the parable of the sheep and goats is about judgment.  This has always been my first image of God’s judgment and I often consider which side I am on.  Pay close attention to the items God uses to pass judgment.  Will the Groom (Jesus) open the door?

Paul Tillich was a theologian at Union Theological Seminary until his move to Chicago Divinity in 1955.  In that same year a collection of his sermons given at the Union Chapel was published, called The New Being.  The following is a direct quote from one of those sermons.

Let me tell you the story of a woman who died a few years ago and whose life was spent abiding in love, although she rarely, if ever, used the name of God, and though she would have been surprised had someone told her that she belonged to Him who judges all men, because He is love and love is the only criterion of His judgment.

Her name was Elsa Brandström the daughter of a former Swedish ambassador to Russia.  But her name in the mouths and hearts of hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war during the First World War was the Angel of Siberia.  She was an irrefutable, living witness to the truth that love is the ultimate power of Being, even in a century which belongs to the darkest, most destructive and cruel of all centuries since the dawn of mankind.

At the beginning of the First World War, when Elisa Brandström was twenty-four yers old, she looked out of the window of the Swedish Embassy in what was then St. Petersburg and saw the German prisoners of war being driven through the streets on their way to Siberia.  From that moment on she could no longer endure the splendor of the diplomatic life of which, up to then, she had been a beautiful and vigorous center.  She became a nurse and began visiting the prison camps.  There she saw unspeakable horrors and she, a girl of twenty-four, began, almost alone, the fight of love against cruelty, and she prevailed.  She had to fight against the resistance and suspicion of the authorities and she prevailed.  She had to fight against the brutality and lawlessness of the prison guards and she prevailed.  She had to fight against cold, hunger, dirt and illness, against the conditions of an underdeveloped country and a destructive war, and she prevailed.  Love gave her wisdom with innocence, and daring with foresight.  And whenever she appeared despair was conquered and sorrow healed.  She visited the hungry and gave them food.  She saw the thirsty and gave them to drink.  She welcomed the strangers, clothed the naked and strengthened the sick.  She herself fell ill and was imprisoned, but God was abiding in her.  The irresistible power of love was with her.

And she never ceased to be driven by this power.  After the war she initiated a great work for the orphans of German and Russian prisoners of war.  The sight of her among these children whose sole ever-shining sun she was, must have been a decisive religious impression for many people.  With the coming of the Nazis, she and her husband were forced to leave Germany and came to this country.  Here she became the helper of innumerable European refugees, and for ten years I was able personally to observe the creative genius of her love.  We never had a theological conversation.  It was unnecessary.  She made God transparent in every moment.

Wednesday, February 5, Chapter 26

Have you been keeping track of how many times Jesus tells his followers he is to be killed?  Early on, he speaks of Jonah (12:38 & 16:4), treatment of the son (21:38), and rejecting the stone (21:42), all of which are indirect references and might be over looked.  However, 16:21, 17:9, 20:18, 20:28, & 26:2 are direct statements that Jesus would die.  Yet, no matter how often he repeated the words, his disciples failed to understand, as we also fail to understand.

Jesus did not have to die.  God did not order him to his death.  Jesus found that he loved everyone he met and he wanted to help everyone of them, and us, get into Heaven.  He knew the only way to do that was to defeat death.  But because of the nature of our physical universe the only way to defeat death was to die.  Not just to die, but to take on my sins and die in my place.

We live in a scientific age which cannot possibly explain how that works because it is outside the rules of the physical universe; it is a God Thing.  There is a non-Biblical story of Jesus spending the three days after his death preaching the Gospel in Hell.  I like that image because Jesus was, and is, willing to reach out to even the worst of sinners.

Please stop and reread verse 12.  That is the importance of the anointment. The remainder of the chapter could be discussed for days.  Read with reverence.

Thursday, February 6, Chapter 27

Think on Judas.  So many church members are like him.  We want to follow Jesus as long as he says what we want to hear.  We are willing to give money and help others when we can.  Judas decided to take God’s mission into his own hands.  He decided he knew better than his master, Jesus.  Like Peter, Judas failed his master.  Unlike Peter, he did not seek forgiveness.  I fail every day, but I continue because I know I am forgiven.  One step forward, two back, with practice becomes two steps forward and one back.

There is little to add to the powerful story Matthew has given us concerning the death of Jesus.  The details are not necessary to grasp the emotion of it all.  Jesus said to each person on earth, ‘For your sins, you have been sentenced to death.  I am going to die in your place.’

Friday, February 7. Chapter 28

This is it, the single most important event in the Bible; the event promised from Genesis onward.  For Jesus to die is a good and noble act, but it would leave us in our same state of sinfulness.  Only by defeating death and walking out of the grave can we be truly changed.

I will die to this earth, but be truly born again to the life that God intended for me in the New Jerusalem.  The best day I have ever lived on earth will be worse than the worst day I will live in Heaven.  What a promise.

Let me quote from a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer based on the text, ‘I am with you always.’

What can we possibly mean by saying that Jesus is with us?  Isn’t that merely an approximate, undefined feeling?

Not at all.  It is completely clear.  Jesus is with us in his words, and that means clearly and unequivocally that he is in that which he wants and in that which he thinks about us.  He is with us with his will, in his words, and only in our dealings with Jesus’ words do we sense his presence….  If we have a person’s word, then we know that person’s will; indeed, we know the whole person….  It tells us:  You are standing under God’s love, God is holy, and you should also be holy; God wants to give you the Holy Spirit that you might also be holy.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence